Fruit point

Well, the word has gotten out.

Just the other day, I was talking to someone who mentioned that they decided to stop eating bread and give up refined sugar. And I couldn’t have been more pleased to hear it.

But then he mentioned in lieu of eating ice cream or cookies, he turned to dried fruit–like cranberries, pineapple, and figs–as “healthy” alternatives to sweets instead. And that’s when I decided that this was a subject worth addressing for all the newbies to the sugar-free movement.

This person’s concern was that limiting fruit would deprive his body of the glucose he needs to power his muscles and brain. That’s a fair concern to have. Sugar does serve this biological purpose, after all. And it’s a pretty important one.

But here’s the thing: Fruit isn’t the only source of this critical fuel. Your body can break down any food you eat into glucose.

In fact, complex carbohydrates (like vegetables) are actually a better source of glucose than fruit. Your body breaks them down much slower than it breaks down fruit and other simple carbs. This means your brain and muscles get a steady supply of fuel, rather than the quick spike–and crash–high-sugar foods (including fruits) provide.

That said, you don’t have to eliminate fruits entirely to enjoy the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle. Just choose the ones with the lower sugar content, like berries and melons.

I would, however, advise you to stay away from dried fruit.

I mean, look at a bag of whole, dried apricots. Would you ever eat that many fresh apricots in one sitting? Probably not. But most people can put away a half a bag of dried fruit without a second thought. And the sugar content of a snack like this is staggering.

It’s the same principle behind avoiding fruit juice. Because when it comes down to it, there’s a big difference between how your body processes a fresh apple and how it processes a glass of apple juice. (Which delivers the sugar content of multiple apples–without any of the fiber.)

If you want proof, just take a look at the results of the following study, recently published in the British Medical Journal.

A team of Harvard researchers looked at data from three famous cohorts–the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study–comprising upwards of 200,000 subjects in total.

Results showed that eating at least two servings of fruit every week lowered subjects’ risk of developing diabetes by as much as 23 percent. The most beneficial fruits appeared to be blueberries (one of my all-time favorites) as well as apples and grapes. (Which are higher in sugar, but not the worst choices you could make.)

Opt for juice instead, though, and you’re asking for trouble. Subjects who drank one or more servings of fruit juice every day were as much as 21 percent more likely to wind up with diabetes.

That’s right. Just drinking a glass of OJ at breakfast every morning could raise your diabetes risk significantly.

Bottom line: From now on, just eat the orange–or better yet, a bowl of fresh berries. Source: “Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.” BMJ 2013;347:f5001.