How much fruit should I eat?

Central Otago Mirror - - OUT & ABOUT - Q: I’m confused about how much fruit to eat and I think I might be hav­ing too much. Is it best to just cut it out be­cause of the sugar? I keep hear­ing dif­fer­ent views on this. Thanks, Lisa A: Dr Libby is a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist, best-sell­ing au­thor and s

Of­ten peo­ple have com­pletely op­pos­ing views on fruit – ei­ther they com­pletely avoid it (typ­i­cally be­cause they are con­cerned about the sugar con­tent) or they eat like a fruit bat – so it’s no won­der peo­ple are confused when they keep hear­ing dif­fer­ent opin­ions.

Fruit nat­u­rally con­tains sugar (fruc­tose), fi­bre, wa­ter, vi­ta­mins (par­tic­u­larly vi­ta­min C), min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants. Fresh fruit is nu­tri­ent-dense real whole food. The sugar in fruit is a source of en­ergy, how­ever fruc­tose is only able to be taken up and metabolised by cells of the liver.

The body is very ca­pa­ble of han­dling a small amount of fruc­tose when it is pack­aged up with mi­cronu­tri­ents and fi­bre (as it is in fruit and veg­eta­bles), but our bio­chem­istry is not de­signed for high fruc­tose con­sump­tion – through­out evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory we pre­dom­i­nantly only con­sumed it when fruits were ripe sea­son­ally.

There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween con­sum­ing fruc­tose from pro­cessed foods (ta­ble sugar is 50 per cent fruc­tose) and con­sum­ing some fruc­tose from a piece of fruit, which also pro­vides many other health-pro­mot­ing nu­tri­ents (un­less you have a med­i­cal mal­ab­sorp­tion syn­drome).

There is also a dif­fer­ence be­tween choos­ing fresh fruit, and fruit juice or dried fruit. It is very easy to over-con­sume fruc­tose when you drink fruit juice. For ex­am­ple, a glass of or­ange juice is equal to about four or­anges, but not many peo­ple would eat four whole or­anges in one sit­ting.

You also don’t get the fi­bre that is nat­u­rally present in whole fruit when you drink juice, and fi­bre helps us to feel full. While fi­bre is present in dried fruit, this is a more con­cen­trated source of fruc­tose that can eas­ily be over­con­sumed – just pic­ture the vol­ume of 20 grapes ver­sus 20 sul­tanas. Or three dried apri­cots ver­sus three whole apri­cots.

The Min­istry of Health rec­om­mends two serves of fruit per day for adults, with a serve be­ing equal to one medium piece of fruit (such as an ap­ple or banana), two small pieces of fruit (such as two small plums) or half a cup of fresh fruit salad.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, two pieces of fruit per day is a good amount for most peo­ple who tol­er­ate fruit well. How­ever, I see more and more peo­ple who don’t tol­er­ate fruit well. One in three adults with ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome (IBS) mal­ab­sorb fruc­tose (the sugar in fruit). Fruc­tose mal­ab­sorp­tion can cause symp­toms such as bloat­ing, flat­u­lence, ab­dom­i­nal pain and changes to bowel mo­tions (diar­rhoea or con­sti­pa­tion). It can be di­ag­nosed us­ing hy­dro­gen/ meth­ane breath-test­ing or tol­er­ance can be tested via an

elim­i­na­tion diet.

Yet I also see many peo­ple who aren’t fruc­tose in­tol­er­ant but they seem to digest fruit much bet­ter when they only con­sume it in the morn­ing on an empty stom­ach.

While there is no known sci­en­tific mech­a­nism for this, I have seen this work for many peo­ple over my al­most 20 years in clin­i­cal prac­tice. So if you find you ex­pe­ri­ence digestive symp­toms when you con­sume fruit, you may like to try this to see if it works for you.

Al­ways lis­ten to your body and do what nour­ishes you. If you don’t tol­er­ate fruit well, amp up your veg­etable in­take as veg­eta­bles also con­tain fi­bre, vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and plenty of won­der­ful an­tiox­i­dants.

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