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Is Fruit Really high in Sugar?

Orla Walsh, RD
Orla Walsh, RD
Orla Walsh is a Registered Dietitian, owner of Orla Walsh Nutrition, former performance nutritionist to the Irish Olympic team and regular contributor for the Irish Independent newspaper, RTE and Newstalk FM.
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Yes, fruit naturally provides your body with sugar. Each type of fruit contains a different amount of sugar, which isn’t always related to how sweet they are. For example, strawberries provide very little despite being exceptionally sweet tasting.

A portion of fruit may contain 8-20g of carbohydrate from natural fruit sugars. This is about 2-5 tsp of sugar. Every 4 jelly babies contains 20g of sugar or 5 tsp of sugar. To compare their sugar levels is somewhat ludicrous though.

Firstly, fruit is one of the most protective foods on the planet. Research shows time and time again that it helps lengthen our life and protects us from a whole host of diseases. The same can’t be said for sweets.

Secondly, ‘free sugars’ are different from the ‘intrinsic sugars’ found in whole fresh fruits and vegetables. The World health Organisation guidelines (2015) report no evidence linking ‘intrinsic sugars’ to adverse health effects. The same can’t be said for ‘free sugars’ present in the likes of sweets, honey, syrups, sugar added to food or fruit/ vegetable juice.

Whole fruit is different to fruit juice.

  • Naturally occuring fruit sugar is found within the cells of the fruit. Juicing releases the sugar from the cells turning it into ‘free sugar’.
  • What’s more, when we drink juice, we often take in more total sugar then when we eat a piece of fruit. You can drink down the juice from 4 apples in less than 30 seconds, but one apple would probably take more than 3 minutes to eat.
  • When you juice fruit, a lot of the nutrients are left behind in the juicer.
  • Finally, fruit juice is less filling then eating the fruit. As you get satiation from eating fruit, it has a knock on effect on what else you may eat later in the day. The same can’t be said for juice or sweets for that matter.
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