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The Great Fruit Debate

When health and wellness professionals turned their focus to sugar, fruit began to get a bad wrap. And that made us bananas! Suddenly that old adage about an apple a day began to look suspicious — and don’t even get us started on how hard it was to kick our five-dates-a-day habit. Now that’s behind us, and we’d really like to know just how much fruit is too much fruit?

Sugar Sticky Points

Fruit is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and prebiotics. The USDA recommends eating 2 cups per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Although these guidelines are pretty straightforward, the issue gets sticky when you consider that fruit is high in fructose, which makes it a major source of carbs. Though you need carbs to fuel cell activity, if you eat more than you burn, the surplus can turn to fat. For this reason, your total carb intake — including nutrient-rich foods like fruit — should correspond to your caloric needs. Try to eat fruit before you’re going to be active — before spin class, for example — so you’ll use the carbs for fuel. Also, pair it with a protein; the combo will slow down a blood sugar spike.

Added vs. Natural Sugar

Sugar found in fruit is unrefined, less concentrated, and bundled with a number of key nutrients. So while one whole orange contains about 17 grams of carbs (12 of which are natural sugar), it also supplies water, 12 percent of daily fiber, and almost 100 percent of your vitamin C requirements. In comparison, 1 level tablespoon of table sugar contains 16 grams of carbs — all from refined sugar — and zero nutrients. When you compare the sugar found in fruit to refined sugar, it’s not an apples-to-apples issue. In fact, the USDA recommends that less than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugars.

fruit raspberries

Lower-Sugar Superstars

If you crave a sweet fix, choose lower-sugar options like raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, grapefruit, or coconut. A half-cup serving of these fruits ranges from 3 to 13 grams of carbs, compared to an apple at 18 grams or banana with 25 grams of carbs. And though some fruits might give you more of a sugar rush than others, dried fruit is more of a sugary, calorie-dense punch, so stick with fresh options.

What About Fruit Juice?

Without the skin of the fruit, you don’t get the fiber essential to keeping you full longer and regulating sugar levels. Though juice can be a source of nutrients, it lacks dietary fiber. Focus on getting your daily 2 cups of fruit from whole fruits and include 100 percent fruit juice in your diet sparingly.

Photos: Rustic Vegan, Dmitry Bayer

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