The fruit bowl seems an unlikely battleground in the world of weight loss and healthy eating. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then surely having, say, a banana, a pear and a few raspberries to go with it would be even more of a good thing, right? Wrong, according to a crop of new best sellers, from a body sculpting manifesto to the French diet believed to have helped Pippa Middleton become an instant celebrity at the royal wedding.
Public health agencies and some weight loss companies are encouraging fruit consumption, however, arguing that gobbling grapes and munching melon will not only help you get your vitamins and minerals, but may also help reduce the risk of disease. The lack of consensus is enough to make anyone go, well, bananas.
“I definitely think people are confused [about eating fruit]” says Anna Leiper, a clinical dietician in Halifax.
French physician’s Dr. Pierre Dukan’s eponymous diet book – the weight loss regime du jour – prohibits fruit during first two of its four stages while people are chowing down on protein, and then only allows dieters one portion of fruit each day. Even then, bananas, grapes, cherries and dried fruits are still off the table because he believes they are too high in carbohydrates.
The sugar contained in fruit also hurts anyone’s chances of losing weight, says Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat.
“If it’s the carbs that make you fat, then fruit’s a problem,” he says, noting that two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese. “That means that for two-thirds of your population you’re probably making the problem worse or at least stopping it from getting cured if you advocate fruit.”
Not only are fruit carbs, but also the fructose they contain causes insulin levels to spike, and the body doesn’t burn its own fat while insulin levels are elevated, Mr. Taubes says.
Other diet gurus put time limits on fruit consumption. For instance, Dr. Mike Moreno, author of The 17 Day Diet, says people can eat up to three servings of fruit a day, although never after 2 p.m.
“Fruits is one of these things that sort of could be viewed as a silent but deadly thing,” he says. “It’s packed with fibre and minerals and vitamins. But if you’re someone who suffers from diabetes or obesity, or if you’re someone who’s really trying to be mindful of their weight control, you have to be cautious about how much you take in.”
Fruit, like all carbs, should be consumed before 2 p.m. so that the body is able to burn off the energy by the time they go to bed rather than storing it as fat, Dr. Moreno says.
“The worst thing you could do is sit down to a big bowl of fruit for dinner because that’s just going to turn in to sugar by the end of the day,” he says. “You might as well have had doughnuts.”
Not all carb-focused diet advocates suggest eliminating fruit, however.
Most fruits rank low on the glycemic index, says Rick Gallop, author of The G.I. Diet. “It’s a lot of common sense, and a lot of obviously evidence to support the fact that several servings of fruit a day are, in fact, important for health.”
Meanwhile, public health agencies and dietitians such as Ms. Leiper continue to tout the benefits of fruits most of us have grown up believing in.
Just as Heath Canada steadfastly abides by the three to five a day recommended servings, Ms. Leiper hasn’t changed her belief that fruits are essential to healthy eating. They’re loaded with vitamins and nutrients, the soluble fibre content in fruit helps lower cholesterol, the fibre in fruit can help you feel full and therefore helps to reduce overeating (which a vitamin can’t do) and many fruits are packed with antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, she says.
Less than half of Canadian adults eat the recommended amount of fruit, according to a poll conducted in December by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. South of the border, about 70 per cent of people fail to eat the United States Department of Agriculture’s daily recommended amount of fruit.
The fact that people eat so little fruit in part led Weight Watchers to give fruit a value of zero points in its new “Points Plus” program, which it launched late last year. The zero points value may suggest people are free to eat as much fruit as they want, but that’s not the case. Instead, the company made the move to encourage people to eat a bit of fruit, not gorge on it, says Karen Miller-Kovach, the company’s chief scientific officer.
“There’s the theoretical and then there’s what actually happens,” she says. “Can one theoretically eat 20 bananas in a day? Do you?”
Under the previous Weight Watchers system, bananas had a value of two points, the same as a 100-calorie pack of Oreos. In some members’ minds, the points equivalency meant one was just as good to eat as the other. Thus the new zero points for fruits, intended to “guide people and encourage people to make the better choice,” Ms. Miller-Kovach says.
The studies that support Canada’s Food Guide and similar recommendations are all very clear, Mr. Gallop says. People who want to be healthy, even those who want to lose weight, should eat several pieces of fruit a day.
“I’m surprised that even in this day that’s even an argument,” Mr. Gallop says.
All fruits aren’t the same, at least when it comes to how much sugar they pack. Anyone with diabetes or who is obese, or who wants to lose weight, needs to pay attention to the amount of sugar consumed, including fructose – the sugar found in fruit. If you want fruit that’s low in sugar, put down that banana and pick up those raspberries.
- Small amounts of lemon or lime
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