On many occasions, patients have asked me whether it’s OK to eat fruit. They’re worried about whether they should be eating foods high in sugar. Is fruit in that category? No, it is not. Does anyone really believe that fruit is what’s causing the paired epidemics of diabetes and obesity? This scourge is not being caused by fruit.
Let’s think about this. As long as the sugar in the food you choose to eat is encased within a fiber matrix, you can feel free to eat fruit. And as long as your doctor hasn’t diagnosed you with a significant blood sugar problem (like uncontrolled diabetes), fruit is, generally speaking, a good choice. And even if you are diabetic, there are only a few whole fruits — mainly tropical fruits like mango and pineapple — that are likely to spike your blood sugar. If you’re wondering, you can figure it out by checking your blood sugar 90 minutes after you eat. It should be back to normal by then. If it isn’t, it means that what you ate contained more sugar than your body was able to metabolize comfortably.
I’d like to share a personal story. This story dates all the way back to 2002, which is the year I first decided that the time had come for me to stop eating commercially produced baked goods. This huge category in the American diet includes most of the bread, crackers, bagels, muffins, waffles, pancakes, “breakfast” cereals, biscuits, cakes, and cookies in the supermarkets, restaurants, hotel breakfast bars, and corner grocery stores. Virtually all of these products are made from stripped carbs like white flour, corn syrup, and sugar. Stripped carbs are nutritionally bankrupt, and the widespread malnutrition they caused in the population when they initially began to predominate in the market had everything to do with why the government passed legislation requiring that white flour be “enriched” prior to its use in products made from it. The reason whole-grain wheat does not require enrichment is that it has not been stripped of its nutrients in the first place.
Like most people I know, I ate gobs of white flour and other stripped carbs. So when I stopped eating it, I was pretty hungry. That’s because, at first, I didn’t know what to substitute. So I looked in my kitchen cabinets and found something that seemed like it might work: dried fruit. Raisins, apricots, prunes, dried apples. There were plenty of packages to choose from. I brought some to work for a mid-afternoon snack. The dried fruit was pretty good, satisfying and filling, and it did the trick. The afternoon went by more easily, and I no longer arrived home famished and exhausted.
Sometimes, usually because I had run out of dried fruit, I ran across the street to an ice cream shop across from my office for a vanilla milkshake. That’s because I still really had no idea what to eat.
Here is an important take-home message: Even though my intake of dried fruit increased markedly, and despite an occasional milkshake, the weight fell off me, and the inches disappeared. Within just a few weeks, my clothes fit a lot better. That weight never came back; of course, you can believe me when I say I never missed it.
All these years later, now I might eat apple slices, sometimes with a spoonful of peanut butter; cucumber slices dipped in hummus with olive oil; oatmeal with raisins; or a handful of nuts. But in those days, I wasn’t sure what to choose if not those “cheezy crackers” or “sunny chipz” that beckoned from the vending machine down the hall.
This experience opened my eyes big time: We were, and still are, all operating under a number of significant and fundamental misconceptions. Here I was eating dried fruit, which I had learned to avoid due to its supposedly high sugar content, and the weight was falling off. I stopped advising my patients to avoid dried fruit.
So yes, you should feel free to eat fruit. Fresh, frozen, or dried. With little or no added sugar, if you are wondering.