With sugar being seen by many as public health enemy number one, you may be wondering if you need to cut down on fruit, too
THE UK’S RELATIONSHIP with sugar is rapidly turning sour. In 2014, anti-sugar academic Dr Aseem Malhorta, from campaign group Action on Sugar, hit the headlines with his claim that sugar is ‘worse’ than tobacco and should be heavily taxed. His words, bolstered by the growing global ‘no sugar’ movement, have already inspired a number of diets designed to help us cut down, or even cut out, the 238tsp sugar each person consumes, on average, every week.
If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake, limiting the contents of your biscuit tin is a no-brainer. But what should you do when it comes to the fruit bowl? A banana, after all, contains 21g sugar – the equivalent of 5tsp. That’s more white stuff than you get in a standard 37g bag of Maltesers (which, incidentally, contains 19.7g sugar). This begs the question: should we be eating a whole lot less fruit? We asked our panel of experts for their verdict…
A healthy diet can include sugar
Most experts agree that sugar when included as part of a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t pose any danger to our health. ‘The fact is, right now there’s no evidence sugar is related to an increased risk of disease,’ explains HFG expert and nutritionist Amanda Ursell. ‘So there’s no reason to go sugar-free if you’re including it as part of a balanced diet.’ HFG expert Tracy Kelly, clinical nutritionist at Diabetes UK, agrees: ‘While our bodies don’t really need foods that are high in sugar, such as confectionery and sugar-sweetened drinks, eating or drinking them can still form part of a healthy, balanced diet if we don’t have too many.’
Fruit provides a lot of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can help protect against stroke and heart disease
But it’s the calories that count
That’s not to say you should swap your usual portion of fruit for a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts! The key is balance. ‘Sugar that’s added to food and drink, by us or by manufacturers, contributes to our overall calorie intake,’ says Tracy. ‘And consuming too many calories, including those from sugar and fat, can significantly increase our risk of becoming overweight, which in turn increases our risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.’
This is where the benefits of fruit shine through. While fruit may contain varying quantities of natural sugar called fructose, most varieties are still reasonably low in calories and come with a whole raft of nutrients that fight disease and keep us feeling and looking good. ‘Fruit provides a lot of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can help protect against stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and may lower the risk of certain cancers,’ confirms Tracy.
The trouble with juice
But there is one area where experts say the relationship between sugar and fruit is more complicated – and that’s juice. Fruit juice has come under fire from Dr Susan Jebb, head of the Diet and Obesity Research Group at the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research unit in Cambridge, was quoted as saying it should come off the five-a-day list because of the large amounts of sugar it contains. Dr Jebb later clarified her position. ‘You can only count 150ml fruit juice as a portion – anything more than this does not count,’ she confirms. ‘And five-a-day does not include “fruit drinks” with added sugar.’
Clearly, the problem with fruit juice is that it doesn’t contain the healthy fibre you get from eating the whole fruit. Plus, drinking fruit juice doesn’t fill you up in the same way, so it can be an all-too-quick way to take in excess calories.
Don’t ditch a diet ally
Nutritionist Amanda Ursell says the main message is: fruit is fine. And according to statistics from the Health Survey for England, most of us should find reasons to eat more fruit, not less – figures show that only 29% of women, 24% of men and 18% of children are getting their five-a-day.
So don’t get hung up on the sugar in fruit – the fruit bowl is most definitely your health ally. And a far better choice than the biscuit tin when you want to satisfy a sweet tooth.