According to national figures diabetes is the fastest growing health threat in the UK, with numbers of people living with type 2 diabetes having doubled since 1996. Last year 14 billion pounds were spent on treating the disease, equating to £25,000 every minute.
Our increased consumption of sugar is largely to blame, along with more sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition in general and a lack of exercise.
Some nutritionists would argue that sugar is sugar, regardless of the source. The fructose in fruit has the same effect on blood sugars as a processed sugar added to food. It causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels; this causes a release of insulin into the blood telling the cells to dispose of the sugar through storage in the liver, muscles and fat cells.
If someone is eating too much sugar over a period of time, then the constant release of insulin leads to diabetes – the insulin is no longer working properly; it’s worn out.
Despite nutritionists, bodybuilders and trainers knowing the effects of sugar for decades, it’s only recently that the media has begun to demonise it. So as we turn away from added sugars, sweet breakfast cereals, soft drinks and biscuits, it’s easy for sugar to be a villain. Even the sugar in fruit.
An unintended consequence of this new eating pattern is avoidance of fruit, particularly fruit that is high in sugar. As our nutritional knowledge grows, we begin to judge and choose food by the macro nutrients in it; often we are guided by the nutrition label. If the carbohydrate content is high, and the sugars are high, we might avoid that food regardless of any other qualities it might contain.
By this logic an orange can be compared to a full fat coke. Both have 9g of sugar per 100g; but the orange is much more than just sugar, and even the nutritional label bears this out. It contains fibre (helping you to feel full), lots of vitamin C and lots of micro-nutrients. These include carotenoids and phytochemicals that have been shown to prevent obesity and polyphenols which are also great for health.
The coke, on the other hand, is just empty calories; sugar, water and chemicals – not the good ones.
So although high in sugar, the orange has much more bang for the buck than its empty counterpart. Is it part of a healthy diet, eaten in sensible quantities? Most certainly. Thus when you consider fruit’s contribution to overall health and longevity then it should not be avoided.
Some fruits are better than others – berries, for example, have low sugar but high nutrient and fibre content. But as part of a balanced diet they are all excellent.