Nutritionists put fruit sugar scare stories into context

English Apples and Pears survey Why Young mums love apples

A popular American food blogger, The Food Babe, is claiming a non-organic apple is potentially more fattening than ice cream

Waitrose apples
English Apples and Pears says people should follow NHS advice that there is no need to avoid natural sugars in fruit

A recent rash of articles discussing the fructose content of fruit has prompted concerns that produce could become the new gluten, with consumers potentially cutting it out of their diet in the misguided belief that it’s ‘bad’ for them. Produce Business UK finds out how the fresh produce industry can counter these claims

When it comes to ingesting sugars, there’s a world of difference between biting into a hot fudge sundae, and an apple. Yet, according to the American food blogger The Food Babe, a non-organic apple is potentially more fattening than ice cream.

The Food Babe, aka Vani Hari, may lack medical, nutritional, or even academic qualifications but she does have an estimated 900,000 Facebook followers, a book deal and a potential television show.

This is one of the more extreme claims when it comes to the debate over the ‘sugar’ content of fruit. But magazines such as Psychologies, news site the Huffington Post, and The Daily Mail have all published articles questioning the role of fructose within a person’s diet too.

Yet there is no medical evidence that shows naturally-occurring sugar in fruit to be harmful, unless one suffers from the extremely rare condition of hereditary fructose intolerance.  

Indeed, following a report earlier this month by the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition that advised cutting sugar to no more than 5% of our daily calorie intake, the NHS has stated there is no need to avoid natural sugars in fruit.

Adrian Barlow, chief executive of industry promotional body English Apples and Pears, says that people should follow NHS advice.

“Apples in particular are a valuable source of nutrients, and as NHS guidelines show, it is the so-called ‘free’ sugars that should be reduced, not the natural fructose,” he explains.

“The way apples are broken down by the body means that any energy released is done so over a matter of hours rather than the spike of artificial sugars.

“The health benefits of fruit have been shown, and when eaten in moderation it should not present any negative impacts.”

English Apples and Pears has been investing in marketing and new promotional materials to raise awareness of the goodness of apples. It appears to be paying off with a recent survey of 1,000 mothers revealing that the highest numbers of buyers were among 16- to 24-year-old mums.

Some 77% of this category was especially interested in buying British produce, and 87% bought apples at least once per week.

Food industry consultant Jane Milton, who counts fruit producers among her clients, claims the industry has a fantastic and adaptable product and it should never lose sight of that.

“I would say, as always, that a balanced diet where things are eaten in moderation is what consumers should aim for and that’s what the message should be,” she says.

“Fructose does have a sweet taste so if I used it as a juice base for the ever popular juices and smoothies, I would add one apple to three vegetables to balance out that sweet note and the sugars.

“Many people are avoiding refined sugar but using alternatives such as honey, agave, and maple syrup. Yet honey has 40g of fructose per 100g, compared to an apple’s 6g.

“Apples don’t need to be avoided due to sugar content. They need, like anything, to be eaten sensibly as part of a healthy, varied diet. They are high in Vitamin C, a good source of minerals, and contain fibre – none of which you could say about sugary snacks. So you need to look not just at the fact that they contain fructose, but how much, and what else they contain.”

Supermarket giant Asda has also added its voice to the debate on which sugars need to be reduced, and a spokesman said it agreed naturally-occurring sugar should be the type that’s added to foods.

“Sugar occurs naturally in a range of foods, such as fruit and milk, but it’s not these types of sugars we need to be avoiding, as these are accompanied by a variety of nutrients that can be beneficial to our health,” says a spokesman.

“It is added sugar that we should be looking out for, and new guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that we reduce our daily intake of added sugars to less than 10% of our total energy intake, which equates to around 50g per day.”

This is also the view of chef and nutritionist Christine Bailey, who is adamant that people should not shun fruit, but eat sensible portions. However, she does believe that some people need to be cautious when it comes to fruit juices.

“Whole fruits, even though they contain fructose, may not be nearly as problematic as fructose from added sugars,” she says.

“One of the reasons for this is believed to be because whole fruits contain high amounts of natural antioxidants, as well as other synergistic compounds that may help counter the detrimental effects of fructose.

“Fruit juice, meanwhile, typically contains very high concentrations of fructose, which will cause your insulin to spike and may counter the benefits of the antioxidants. If you suffer with imbalances then avoid fruit juice and similar drinks altogether, and stick to the lower fructose fruits – one or two portions a day is sufficient.

“Watch dried fruit, which is often added to bars and snacks. To keep blood sugar stable include a little protein when you eat fruit so have a satsuma with a handful of nuts for example, or berries and yogurt, pineapple and cottage cheese.”

As reports reveal British households are still struggling to serve up the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, it’s of course frustrating for the industry to read articles that could potentially put people off eating the very food that can help to avoid the much-discussed health issues of the nation.

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