I’m often asked, “Is all sugar bad, including the sugar in fruit?” The answer is no – as long as you don’t go overboard.
Presently, the strictest guidelines about sugar only refer to “added sugar,” which is sugar that's been added to a product by the manufacturer, like sweetened yogurt, baked goods, and candy, or the sugar you add to your own morning cup of Joe, not the kind added by Mother Nature, like the sugar in fruit. The American Heart Association has stated that we should limit our intake of "added sugar" to no more than 100 calories per day for women, and 150 for men, which amounts to 25 and 37.5 grams respectively. To put that in perspective, 25 grams of sugar equals about 6 level teaspoons of granulated sugar and 37.5 equals about 9 teaspoons.
Hitting the target is entirely doable, but doing so would be a big change for many Americans, considering that the average intake of added sugar is currently 22 teaspoons daily, an amount that snowballs into 35 two pound boxes per person each year! Here's the tricky part: right now, Nutrition Facts labels don’t distinguish between added sugars (the type that should be limited) and naturally occurring sugar. That’s why you’ll see 13 grams of sugar on a label for canned pineapple, when the only two ingredients are pineapple and 100% pineapple juice. The best way to tell if a food contains added sugar is to scan the ingredient list. Look for words like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, and sucrose. Seeing one of these terms means sugar was added to the product, and every 4 grams per serving is equal to a teaspoon. Another trick you can use to scope out the amount of added sugar in a product is to compare an unsweetened version to its sweetened counterpart. For example, a single serve container of organic, nonfat plain Greek yogurt contains 6 grams of sugar, all naturally occurring, since the only ingredients are milk and cultures. The same sized portion of vanilla, which lists sugar in the ingredients, contains 11 grams of sugar, 5 more than the plain, which means just over a teaspoon of sugar has been added.
As for fresh fruit, because fruit is high in water, the sugar is less concentrated. For example, one cup of sliced strawberries naturally contains about 8 grams of sugar, compared to about 40 grams in a 12 ounce can of cola. Plus, that naturally occurring sugar is bundled with lots of good stuff, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. The antioxidants in fruit are one of the reasons why I believe veggies alone don’t cut it. Banning fruit would drastically narrow the spectrum of nutrients your body is exposed to, including many tied to the pigments responsible for their vibrant hues. One Colorado State study found that eating a wider array (18 botanical families instead of 5) of the exact same amount of produce daily for two weeks resulted in significantly less oxidation, a marker for premature aging and disease. And some research shows that fruit lovers weigh less, even more so than veggie eaters. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but it may be because unlike veggies, fruits tend to replace less healthy foods - you’re much more likely to eat a pear in place of cookies rather than reach for carrots over a cupcake.
But this doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited amounts of fruit. Yes, they’re superfoods, but fruits pack about three to four times as much carbohydrate as veggies, so your daily fruit intake should be based on your body’s fuel needs. In other words, while the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can’t get turned into fat, the carbs can, which is why most women should aim for about two serving of fruit daily (one serving equals one cup fresh, about the size of a baseball).
In my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches, none of the recipes include added sugar, and the eating plan includes two daily servings of fruit, one at the breakfast meal (like the Dark Chocolate Oatmeal with a Side of Minted Blueberry Yogurt) and one in the snack meal (like my Cherry Almond Green Tea Smoothie). For most of my clients, this is the perfect amount to reap fruits’ nutritional and health rewards, as they work towards achieving, then maintaining, a healthy weight.
Are you still confused about sugar? Have you been struggling to cut back? Do you tend to overdo it on fruit? Please share your thoughts and questions by connecting with me on Twitter or Facebook.