If You’re Afraid to Eat Fruit, Find Out What Mistakingly Gave Fruit a Bad Name and Why You Don’t Need to Worry About “Too Much Sugar” Anymore!

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{Note to readers: This is a modified excerpt from my book “Unhooked: A Holistic Approach to Ending Your Struggle with Food”.}

I remember when the Atkins craze hit. People were eating bacon, eggs, and cheeseburgers—minus the bun—like it was going out of style, and all in the name of “health”. Many mainstream “low-carb” diets recognize the damage that refined carbohydrates (think white pasta, cinnamon buns and commercial cereal products) wreak on our health but have inadvertently given all carbohydrates (especially fruit) a bad rap.

This unfortunate confusion has lead innumerable people astray from the simple, intuitive process of eating real, whole foods because it condemned a whole category of macronutrients that is essential to our survival—carbohydrates. The most drastic affect this condemnation of carbohydrates has had is how it’s influenced our consumption of fruit; because we’ve all heard it a million times: fruit contains “too much sugar”.

The good news is that understanding the truth about carbohydrates, and especially about fruit is actually very simple and straightforward, and can help you make better choices about what to eat. When I clarify things for my clients, I almost always hear people express how happy they are that they can eat as much fruit as they like. This intuitively tells me how much we’re naturally inclined to eat the wholesome nectar provided to us by this earth, and how we run into bigger dietary issues when we try to deny our body’s natural inclinations.

Let’s brake it down one step at a time, so we can demystify the truth about carbohydrates and clear up any confusion that might be preventing you from enjoying the absolute divine pleasure  of eating fruit.

Feeding Our Hungry Cells

Did you know that carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for our cells? Carbohydrates break down into glucose, a simple sugar, and this is the preferred source of fuel for our tissues and cells; even the brain uses glucose exclusively to maintain its proper functioning. Before the body can use any of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) they must first be converted into glucose. Carbohydrates are the easiest macronutrient to convert into our primary fuel source, making it the most efficient way to keep the body running smoothly.

If we we were to completely cut out carbohydrates, something that’s possible only for a limited period of time (a major indication that this “low-carb” way of eating is a restrictive diet not a lifestyle), our bodies would have to work harder and more inefficiently to convert the calories from proteins and fats into simple sugars for our cells. Simple, whole food carbohydrates, on the other hand, were designed to fuel our cells and break down into glucose easily and efficiently. Wouldn’t you rather eat a food source that is already easy to digest and designed to give your cells exactly what they need, rather than make your body work a lot harder to convert everything else (fats, proteins, starches) into glucose?

Essentially, our body runs on sugar—so it’s not at evil as you might have thought—but as we will see, not all carbohydrates are created equal. There is a major difference between refined and whole food sugars, and the ones you choose to eat can largely affect the state of your health; this is why discretion is required!

Refined Versus Whole Carbohydrates

Due to the advent of processed foods, we now need to distinguish whole food carbohydrates from refined carbohydrates—a distinction we would not have had to make less than one hundred years ago. (We also need to distinguish simple carbs versus complex carbs, but that’s for another post!)

A refined food, such as white sugar or white flour, has been extracted from its whole food plant source and processed into a more concentrated substance, involving a chemical and/or mechanical process. Through this process, many of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water are removed. This fragmentation drastically increases the speed at which these refined foods enter the bloodstream, a striking resemblance to the refinement of whole plants like poppy into heroin or coca leaves into cocaine. Whether it is sugar, cocaine, or heroin, they all originate from a plant source and are refined down to a concentrated substance. It is the refinement process that facilitates quicker-than-normal absorption into the bloodstream, triggering various chemical processes in the brain that in turn affect mood and behavior. This is why repeated studies (conducted with mice) continue to show that white sugar is just as, if not more addictive than cocaine.

We can find examples of these refined simple carbohydrates everywhere we look, stocking the shelves of every grocery store, including “health food” stores. They include cookies, pastries, ice cream, donuts, candy and chocolate, white breads, table sugar, and refined complex carbohydrates like pastas, pizza, and cereal. They also can be found in most commercially sold beverages. The vast majority of packaged food products include refined sugar. Even supposed “health foods” and “organic treats” are loaded with refined, processed carbohydrates.

According to the World Health Organization, sugars and other refined simple carbohydrates are a leading factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic. Overconsumption of refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other highly refined carbohydrates has been associated with a higher incidence of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, Crohn’s disease, and even breast and colorectal cancer. Eating disorders including binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa are also related to overconsumption of high fat and refined carbohydrates.

Why You Don’t need to be Afraid to Eat Fruit: Fruits Comes as a Complete Package

As you can see, these refined sugars have caused quite a scare, and rightly so. But whole food, simple carbohydrates (aka fruit) are quite different than their refined counterparts. Whole food simple carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables and come in their “complete package,” which includes the right proportion of water and fiber and the myriad of other nutrients to help facilitate the natural rate of digestion and absorption. These whole foods have been recognized by every major health organization as promoters of health and wellness, compared to their refined counterparts, promoters of disease and obesity.

Fruit & Veggies are the One Point of Consensus

Despite all the dietary confusion out there, there’s not one major health organizing that disputes the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. It’s actually the one point of consensus, across the board. Every major health organization, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society, recognizes the health benefits of fruits and vegetables as a key important component of a healthy diet.

Despite fruit being recognized as a health food from every health-related organization, there’s still much confusion surrounding this incredibly important food group. There’s less disagreement over whether vegetables should take center stage in our diets, but fruit tends to be criticized more often because of the whole misconception of sugar and carbohydrates.

The health benefits of whole fruits and vegetables is one of the very few things that we know for sure, yet there are still “health” professionals advising people to steer clear of fruit because of all the “sugar.” But as we saw, whole food sugars are quite different from processed and refined sugars and act very differently in the body.

As you can see, we can’t say the word “carbohydrates” and mean one thing anymore. What are we really talking about? That word points to both pizza and apples, to both pasta and watermelon. We know these foods are not created equal, but somehow, somewhere along the lines we’ve been duped. Yes, white sugar, the stuff that looks like heroin or cocaine, that stuff is toxic, deadly and addictive. But mangoes, peaches and apples are not only you’re friend, they’re your alley in health.

Transitioning to a high fruit diet has literally changed my life forever. I went through every single “but what about…” and “but they said…” and debunked almost every mainstream myth about fruit out there. Most of all, I’ve seen the remarkable difference in my life and in the lives of my clients and colleagues who are also advocating a high fruit lifestyle (and there are many.)

So fear not, fruit is your friend! My only last piece around fruit is to try to eat it on its own or only in optimal food combinations. Especially be aware of mixing fruits with fats. Fruits with vegetables and leafy greens is a great combination, but fruit with fats is not ideal because it prevents the optimal digestion of the natural sugars in fruit.

Now that we’ve got this covered, my next post is going to dive deeper into why fruit makes for the perfect meal.

Most of all, follow your heart and listen to your body!

Live Free, Laura D.

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