It seems like fruit and summer go together and many people eat more fruit during the summer than at any other time. The “stone fruit” - cherries, plums and apricots - all readily available, call to us. The deep colors in cherries and plums are filled with polyphenols that are protective against inflammation and disease. Those colors mean something.
The other day, while shopping at Costco, I brought home a crate containing several pounds of the most beautiful organic peaches. They were huge, colorful and ripe. It was a surprising purchase because I’m not a big fruit eater, so I knew that buying this much ripe fruit at once was risky. It felt like I was being pulled by some ancient cravings, beyond the sugar cravings that some of us get from eating the sweet fruits sold today that taste nothing like the ancient fruits from the earliest human eras. Before fruit became hybridized and grown for its sugar content, wild fruit and berries were sour and filled with healthy compounds protective against oxidative stress. I shared some of the peaches with a friend and the rest went in the freezer to have as a cool snack and to use for smoothies.
Why was it so hard to resist this beautiful fruit? Would it have been as compelling if it was January? Would I have even seen such beautiful fruit in January? Ripe peaches are seasonal; we only see them at their best for a few short months during the summer. The fresh “summer fruit” that is available to us during the winter months is generally shipped from regions thousands of miles away. I wonder, can our bodies tell the difference between produce that is not in season where we live? Do we digest it in the same way, receiving the same nutrients as we do when the food is local and in season for us? Is frozen fruit best, picked at a perfect time to capture nutrients and frozen immediately? Is this better than fruit that is picked before ripening for shipping across continents?
According to the research on Paleolithic humans, in the hunter/gatherer era, fruit was a rare treat. When available, our Paleo ancestors would gorge on wild berries, putting on weight for the colder months ahead. Back then, obesity was an asset! We needed to store the energy from fat for the months when it was often hard to find good food.
Although food is now available to most of us every day, all year, our bodies have not changed. We are still designed to gorge on fruit and most other foods, given our cravings and ancestral roots. The difference is, obesity is no longer an asset. We no longer need the extra fat on our bodies; on the contrary, now that extra fat is making us sick.
Put Down the Tropicana
I consider orange juice junk food - sweet liquid with the fiber removed; yet, it is consumed in the United States more than any other “fruit”. Apple juice is up there with it. In liquid forms like this, eight to ten oranges are used to make one serving of juice, as opposed to just eating one orange at a time, that includes the fiber and all of its nutrients. Consuming fruit in liquid forms, along with the use of sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), have lead to our current obesity and diabetes crises - in adults and children.
I believe that some of the confusion about fruit is that it is often paired along with vegetables in the various Food Pyramids or Food Guidelines from the government. When we are advised to eat eight to ten servings of fruit and vegetables, how do we know how much of each? In my view, they should be separated and we should be advised to eat at least six to eight servings of vegetables and no more than two servings of (whole) fruit - and only certain fruits.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Centuries ago, there were thousands of different varieties of fruit to choose; now, we have a few common hybrids created just for sweetness and taste. Dr. Thomas Cowan, a physician and gardener who spent time in Africa in the Peace Corps, says that in the African village where he worked, they ate upwards of sixty five different fruits and vegetables every week! Here, in the United States, it’s lucky if we make it to ten different varieties of produce each week.
The Difference Between Glucose and Fructose
The sugar in all fruit is fructose - a completely different substance than glucose because of the way it is assimilated in the body. Once consumed, fructose goes directly to the liver where it engages in fat production (lipogenesis), often raising triglycerides; glucose, on the other hand, goes directly into the bloodstream where it is quickly used for energy - any excess glucose is taken by Insulin and stored within fat cells. Sucrose, the sugar you put in your coffee, is a combination of glucose and fructose, which makes it less sweet than fructose would be on its own.
Pediatrician Robert Ludwig, author of "Fat Chance" and other books, has seen first hand how the excess consumption of fructose, particularly High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in sodas and “energy drinks”, has created an epidemic of fatty liver disease in children. In a lecture given a few years ago, he tells the story of the creation of the original Gatorade for athletes by a scientist during the 1970’s. At that time, it was made with just glucose and water and tasted, according to him, like “tiger’s piss”. In 1992, when Pepsi purchased the company, two things were added: Michael Jordon and High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sales of Gatorade soared and, with them, an epidemic of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and fatty liver disease in children.
Not all fruit is created equal
A few years ago, I had a mildly obese patient in my practice who had a large belly. When I asked him about his diet, he insisted it was healthy and that he never ate junk food. When I dug deeper to find out the specifics that were creating a belly the size of a watermelon, he said that he kept a bowl of grapes on his desk at work, and ate them every day throughout the day. This man, who claimed to have never stepped inside a McDonald’s had created a huge belly from eating grapes! The grapes that we eat today are little morsels of fructose and water that over time can create fatty liver disease without having ever had a drink of alcohol. Like candy, once you start eating grapes, it’s hard to stop.
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load: Quality vs. Quantity
Perhaps you have heard about the Glycemic Index? Learning how to use this index, along with the Glycemic Load, may help you to navigate through the best choices of fruit and other carbohydrates, along with the appropriate quantities of each. The Glycemic Index (G.I.) is a list of all the carbohydrates that tells how quickly it affects blood sugar after a food is eaten. This index is divided into low, medium and high, from 1 - 100; the more refined the food, the higher on the index. Carbohydrates with more fiber, like beans and kale, are lower on the GI; refined flours, like white bread are high on the GI. An interesting fact is that fructose is low on the Glycemic Index because it measures only blood levels of Glucose - not Fructose
The Glycemic Load (GL), on the other hand, gives you an idea of what a serving of a particular carbohydrate would be. Even if it is a food that is high on the GI, the serving size makes the difference, and takes into account both the quantity and quality of the food. Use the formula: GI X Grams of Carbohydrate, divided by 100 = Glycemic Load, and keep the GL under 11. There are several lists online of both Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load. Here is one link to check out.
Update on Glyphosate
You may have heard that Monsanto, the company that produces the weed killer Roundup, lost an important lawsuit this past week. A judge awarded a school yard keeper, on the job for thirty years several hundred million dollars after claiming that his years of using Roundup in his job caused the non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma he now suffers with. This is an incredible announcement as we may be one step closer to getting this highly toxic chemical off the market both here and around the world. I thought you would want to know, since the reason we are choosing to buy organic food is to avoid consuming this terrible substance on our food. Yeah!!!! Here is a link to my blog on the subject: Glyphosate Round Up