Summer has really strong associations with fruit. Sticky watermelon dripping down children’s chins and arms. Plump, juicy peaches that make your mouth water. Strawberries and blueberries. Even a crisp apple tastes better when you bite into it right out of the pool!
Fruit is a miracle just as all our food is, yet it might just be the most tantalizing — it’s candy that somehow grows straight from a tree. No artificial colors or flavorings. Appealing to the eye and the taste buds. Splendidly sweet yet packed with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber that promote health and smooth digestion. The variety of flavor can take your breath away, and when you zoom in on the health benefits of the many varieties, it’s clear that fruit is a treat from Hashem.
The Source of Sweet Fruit contains two types of sugar: fructose and glucose. The proportions of each vary, but most fruits are about half glucose and half fructose. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, having too much glucose causes excess insulin production, which can, over time, lead to insulin resistance and other health issues. Too much fructose, on the other hand, does not impact insulin, but it can cause other health issues, which we will discuss soon.
When you eat a whole fruit, you’re getting moderate levels of fructose as part of a nutritious and fi ber-rich package. Fruit is created in a way that enables our bodies to digest it and rid themselves of the extra fructose naturally. But these days, we get fructose from a lot of sources besides fruit — and those sources don’t come with Hashem’s built-in defense system. These include sucrose, or table sugar, which is half fructose and half glucose, and corn syrup, which contains an unnatural level of fructose without the nutrients of the original package. Another natural sweetener that became popular by boasting its low-glycemic impact is agave. It’s low in glucose but high in fructose — almost as high as corn syrup!
Glucose can be processed with the help of insulin, but fructose is processed by the liver, which, when overloaded, will convert excess fructose into fat.
Having too much fructose doesn’t result in anything good. In severe cases it can affect the liver like excess alcohol does. But even on a less severe scale, excess fructose can increase blood pressure, triglycerides, visceral fat, and LDL levels. Additionally, because fructose doesn’t trigger the release of the hormone leptin, which tells our brains that we have enough fuel, it’s really easy to just keep munching.
Fruit isn’t usually the culprit of fructose indulgence — it’s usually sugar-laden treats, cereals, and other processed foods. When it’s part of a diet that’s based on mainly nutritious foods, you can happily enjoy your fruit. In fact, if you’re going to be selective about your treats, fruit should be your top choice — no other sweet treat has so many health benefits. But because we tend to up our fruit intake in the summer, it’s a good idea to be mindful of the general amount we eat each day.
How Much Is Too Much? Keeping your unnatural sources of fructose to a minimum is always a good idea. The amount of fruit that you can eat safely every day, however, depends on your health profile. The “Five a Day” campaign might make out fruits and vegetables to be interchangeable, but fruits have high sugar levels and vegetables don’t. For most women and children, the recommended range is one to three servings of fruit each day, assuming that your blood sugar levels are stable. (As for veggies, bring ’em on!)
Enjoying your fruit with some protein or healthy fat makes it more filling. It also keeps the effect on your blood sugar more even, avoiding both the “system overload” and the subsequent blood sugar crash. This is especially true for people whose blood sugar is more sensitive. Fruit and nuts or nut butter make for a great combination.
Just clarifying: if your child has already eaten three fruits over the course of the day and wants something sweet after dinner, don’t give him a doughnut instead of grapes. But you knew that, right?
Wishing you a summer of sticky, sweet memories,
Cashew Butter Cashew butter has been getting popular over the past number of years, and it’s not hard to find on grocery shelves. Like all-natural nut butters, cashew butter contains a generous amount of protein and healthy fats, as well as nutrients like magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, and riboflavin.
Cashew butter has a milder flavor and more neutral color than peanut or almond butters. It offers creaminess and depth of texture, healthy fats, and protein without overpowering the main players of the recipe.
One caveat: When you’re buying cashew butter, check those ingredients! Make sure you’re getting 100 percent cashews.
(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 703)
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