Thursday, January 29, 2015

Avoiding fruit to minimize sugar? Dispelling the myth that all sugar is bad

One of the more interesting diet fads I hear people talk about is the low carb diet, paleo, or (this one's new to me) the zero-sugar diet.  I'll discuss these together because obviously sugar is pure carbohydrate, but I think it's worth framing the conversation about what carbohydrates are made of.  Typically when nutritionists talk about a low-sugar diet, what they are usually advocating is low-processed sugars.  All whole healthy plant foods contain some natural sugars and no one disputes that these are the healthiest foods to let's get that out of the way.  Next, we must recognize that carbohydrates are a form of energy that can be made of simple or complex sugars or a combination.  Complex carbs are basically sugar molecules with fiber or dietary starch, vitamins and minerals and are found again in unrefined plant foods.  To keep it simple, think whole wheat (complex) bread vs. white bread, which should not be news to anyone.  But somehow carbs and sugar became the enemy, a midst a wave of public interest over the widespread use of sugar.
Reduce This
    It's absolutely true that most of the SAD (standard American diet) contains way too much added sugar. Avoiding processed foods with added sugars is a great way to eat healthier.  But avoiding all sugar or all carbohydrates is not only impossible, it's dangerous.  It means cutting out one of the primary sources of energy that humans require.  Again, let me make it clear.  Avoiding sweetening your coffee or tea with sugar is a great way to cut down on processed sugars.  Avoid eating unprocessed apples, oranges, beets and sweet potatoes?  Bad idea.  Complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and whole fruits are a wonderful source of energy bathed in vitamins and phytonutrients which are essential for good health and fight disease.
Eat More of This
Can you overdue it with fruit?  Sure.  But if you're eating unprocessed fruit, honestly how many apples can you eat?  While dried fruit like raisins and apricots should be eaten mindfully, the high water content of whole fruit is partly what makes you feel full.
    In fact research studies have shown that if you feed people an apple prior to eating a typical meal, they consume less total calories.  The researches concluded the reduction in overall calories is good because the fruit calories are more nutrient dense than the average dinner of pasta, pizza and burgers.  Eating for nutrient density does not have a fad diet behind it (maybe Dr. Fuhrman's Eat to Live) comes close, but it would be a much more mindful and practical diet than one trying to avoid all sugar.
    Dr. Gregor discusses the low-carb diet fads and points out that even using the proponents' own framework, you would eat the opposite thing.  Depriving yourself of wonderful whole fruits, vegetables and starches may seem to help some lose weight but the science shows that they would lose more weight and be healthier if they simply eat a healthier diet.