Eat Your Fruits and Veggies - with Caution!
"Eat your fruits and vegetables" and "5 a day each" have always been common mantras in Nutritionland. Now the US government has taken this a step further. Forget five a day. Now, "More is better". The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Produce for Better Health Foundation (ref 1) have launched a national campaign with the message, "Fruits & Veggies - More Matters."
The new slogan replaces the old "5 a Day" campaign, which dates back to the early '90s. The belief is that under the U.S. government's latest food guidelines, five servings of fruits and vegetables may not be enough for adults to get all the health benefits. Hence, more is better.
There are two big problems with this recommendation. Can you spot them?
The first is that more of something that is nutritionally poor is hardly beneficial! For more on this topic please see our blog: How to Breed the Nutrition out of our Food (ref 2)
The second problem, and the subject of this blog, is the assumption that fruits and veggies are the same. They are not. They are not the same nutritionally; and have different effects on your body.
For example, you can pretty much eat all the vegetables you want without any negative consequences if they are sourced, cleaned and prepared safely.
In contrast, eating excess, or even moderate fruit has the potential to cause all kinds of health problems, especially if you have digestive and blood sugar disorders.
I am not saying that fruits are to be avoided. On the contrary, they are absolutely a good source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and more. Like veggies, their nutrients may help to lower blood pressure, fight oxidative stress and reduce the likelihood of many other disorders (ref 3).
But unlike with veggies they must be eaten with more care and moderation. Why?
Fruits are higher in simple carbs
Fruit is said to have around three times the carbs (mainly simple carbs) as non-starchy veggies (15 g vs. 5 g per serving). This can cause your blood sugar to sky rocket, as in contrast with complex carbs, simple carbs are converted to sugar soon after they reach your bloodstream. Add the fact that most real world portions are much larger than one serving and those carbs ratchet up quickly.
Case in point. A typical all-fruit smoothie stuffed with grapes, berries, banana, mangos, and more can pack over 100 grams of total carbs per serving.
Compare that to a green smoothie made with spinach, cucumber, chlorella and broccoli. It has fewer than 20 grams of carbs, all of which are complex, and is unlikely to have a negative effect on blood sugar levels. If anything it will help to lower them.
Most fruits lack protein
Protein can be a dieter’s best friend. When you’re losing body fat, you naturally lose muscle mass as well. An optimal intake of protein for your body helps you preserve more of this critical lean tissue (ref 4). Protein also takes more time to digest, so it helps keep you fuller longer.
Some fruits such as avocados, dried fruits and berries (ref 5) do have some protein. But if your goal is to add more protein into your diet, then you would want to incorporate more vegetables, beans and legumes rather than fruits.
Non-starchy veggies for example provide about 2 grams of protein per serving. It may not seem like much at first glance, but by day’s end, a little here and there throughout the day adds up fast.
Fruits are high in fructose
Fructose or ‘fruit sugar’ is bad news for dieters or those with blood sugar issues. Our bodies can’t use fructose directly for energy. Most of the fructose you consume is shuttled to the liver to be converted to another form of sugar – glucose.
But when your liver is on fructose overload (think of a rich fruit smoothie), it also ramps up fat production.
The result is a double whammy: higher levels of blood lipids (potentially risky for your heart health), and very likely more belly fat, including the most dangerous type: visceral adipose fat.
Even worse, research (ref 6) demonstrates that fructose gets turned into fat more quickly than even simple table sugar. Also, unlike table sugar, fructose does not provide a signal to your brain that you’re full.
So not only are your chances of turning fructose into visceral fat high, you’re also more likely to finish all your dinner, your spouse’s dinner, and polish off a nice piece of chocolate cake without feeling full!
A Good Compromise?
A good way forward is to consider these strategies:
1. If a specific nutrient like phytonutrients can be found in a fruit, ask yourself if it can also be in a veggie without the negative side effects? For example:
- Watermelon is rich in lycopene, but you can get lycopene in tomatoes and red cabbage.
- Oranges are rich in carotenoids, but carrots also have plenty.
2. Enjoy fruit but in moderation, and choose wisely. For example, have two to three small fruit servings daily, preferably after your veggies and protein! And choose anti-inflammatory fruits more often. These include:
Raspberries (black or red)
I hope this information shows how fruits and veggies are not equals, and one should not be used as a substitute for the other. Both have their respective health benefits when sourced, prepared and eaten in the best way for the body.
What do you think?
- More Matters Campaign http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruits_%26_Veggies_%E2%80%93_More_Matters
- Blog: “How to Breed the Nutrition out of our Food http://www.xtend-life.com/Blog/13-12-02/How_to_Breed_the_Nutrition_out_of_our_Food.aspx
- Health benefits of fruits and veggies http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
- Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight losshttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23739654
- Fruits highest in protein http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/fruits-high-in-protein.php
- Fructose Turns to Fat Faster Than Any Other Sugar http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080724064824.htm http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19381015
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