You know that excess sugar is harmful to your health, but what about the naturally-occurring sugars in fruit? Let’s talk about the differences between added sugar and fruit.
TABLE SUGAR VS. WHOLE FRUIT
Fruit sugar and table sugar actually have a lot in common, if you are looking only at the sugar content. Table sugar is sucrose, a combination of two sugars: fructose and glucose. Fruits contain both fructose and glucose as well, but that’s not all you get when you reach for a piece of fruit. Cyrus Khambatta points out at Diabetes Daily that whole fruits “also contain longer chain carbohydrates that take longer to digest and absorb.”
One of the most important differences between added sugar and fruit sugar is the fiber-to-sugar ratio. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream, which helps prevent a blood sugar spike. When you eat a candy bar, you get little to no fiber. Compare that to something like an apple or orange, which delivers three to four grams of fiber per serving.
Total volume of sugar also matters. Most sweets have a ton of sugar and little to no fiber. Fruit, on the other hand, contains less total sugar and gives you that fiber punch. In a recent article for NPR’s The Salt, Natalie Jacewicz explored the differences between whole fruit and other sources of dietary sugar. She points out that most fruit has maybe 20 grams of sugar, tops, per serving, while something like a soda packs in close to 40 grams.
And that sodapop doesn’t deliver any fiber or nutrients. It’s basically just sugar water.
NOT ALL FRUIT SUGAR SOURCES ARE CREATED EQUAL
Jacewicz also points out that you can’t give all sugar from fruits a pass. Fruit juice, for example, is not your friend, because it’s processed to remove the fiber that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Without fiber, a glass of apple juice is not much better than a can of soda. That goes for foods sweetened with fruit juice as well.
Smoothies and dried fruit are also a little bit tricky when it comes to sugar. Both contain fiber, but they can also contain high amounts of sugar.
Spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Lauri Wright, told Jacewicz that if you do like smoothies, you should make a point to sneak some veggies in alongside all of the fruit. You also need to watch out for commercial smoothies. Smoothie chains often use frozen fruit that’s sweetened with sugar, which turns a potentially healthy(ish) treat into a sugar bomb. When it comes to dried fruit, Wright advises that you go easy, since it’s so easy to eat too much of it.
THE LONG STORY SHORT
Not all carbs are bad, and not all sources of sugar are the same. When you’re looking for a sweet treat, you are best off reaching for an orange, a handful of berries, or other whole fruit options over refined sweets like juices, soda, candy or cookies. Smoothies and dried fruit are better than refined sweet treats, since they do contain fiber and other nutrients. They can be high in sugar, though, so moderation is key.