Is Fruit Sugar Really Healthy?
I’m sure you can hear the words already. You’re going to your dental appointment and you’re preparing for a lecture on sugar. We’ve all had it, and we all usually sheepishly admit that we’ve had a bit more sugar than we perhaps should of, or would like to have.
As a dentist, I sat on both sides of this fence. I would see patients that are clearly eating far too much sugar. The problem was, I would give them the same lecture they definitely heard before (and selectively didn’t hear).
For a long time, I struggled with this. My patients knew sugar was bad, but no matter how much we discussed, they would always be eating too much! That was the beginning of my own journey into diet and oral health.
Here’s the good news. It’s not your fault. Sugar is a remarkably complex topic. It exists in many names, shapes and forms and simply saying sugar, really doesn’t tell us much at all. And the advice that we dentists have been giving to simply ‘quit’ or reduce sugar, doesn’t take into account how hard or complicated that really is.
So is all sugar bad? Should you avoid fruit too? Let’s look at the confusing topic of sugar.
The Effects of Sugar on the Body
Dentists have been warning patients of the harms of sugar for decades now. Sugar causes tooth decay, after all, no debating that. But it’s only been relatively recently that the harms of sugar have extended beyond our teeth.
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The truth is sugar does far more in the body than we’d originally thought. Diet and dental caries is one health result of eating too much.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate (but it’s not that simple). Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose, which are the simplest forms of sugar. Glucose is the molecule that is absorbed and causes a ‘spike’ in blood sugar. Our body releases insulin which tells us to store glucose as fat.
But sugar also impacts the oral and gut microbiome. We’ve known that these simple sugars feed tooth decay-causing bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria changes may travel throughout the entire digestive system. Imbalance or dysbiosis in the gut microbiome is linked to digestive, immune and hormonal changes in the body.
Then there’s fructose. A slightly different compound to glucose, it’s broken down differently in the body. Fructose must be metabolized in the liver. Here it is converted into belly fat causing inflammation, blood tryglycerides release and potentially type-II diabetes
Natural Sugar Vs Refined Sugar
Here’s another confusing point about sugar. The sugar we MOSTLY eat today isn’t the sugar nature designed for us.
In nature, sugars are bound up in cellular carbohydrates casing. This casing is in the form of fibrous cellulose (we call fiber), which our human digestive system can’t break down.
Even though we can’t digest dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables, we still need it. It is essential for health with both soluble and insoluble fiber regulating the digestion and promoting bowel movement.
The problem is that modern food processing strips away this fibrous coating and we add this simple sugar to plenty foods.
The sugar many people eat are the hidden added sugars in cereals, musli bars, sweetened drinks and just about anything you can think of.
The problem is that as a result, we take a much larger dose of unwanted sugar than we’re aware of.
If there’s one non-debatable point on sugar, it’s that we should all reduce our consumption of added, refined sugar.
Is Fruit Sugar Bad for You?
All sugar has potentially harmful microbial and metabolic impacts on the body. The issue is how much and what your sources of sugar are. If your main source of sugar is from fruit, it’s fine to consume 2-3 pieces per day. This natural form of sugar comes coated in fiber that means it’s not a ‘tsunami’ into our oral and gut microbiome.
Modern processing of fruit, such as fruit juice and dried fruits (much higher in sugar) should generally be avoided.
For people with blood sugar or weight issues then you may want to watch your fruit intake.
There are certain fruits that are lower in fructose than others. You might want to choose from these.
Fruits with lower fruit sugar (fructose)
- Tomatoes and avocados
- Cantaloupe melon
- Kiwi fruit.
If you have any questions regarding sugar or any other nutrition and oral health issues, please visit me at my website http://www.drstevenlin.com
Dr. Steven Lin is currently the Principal Dentist at Luminous Dentistry, a dental practice on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia, that strives to give individuals of all ages the best possible smile.
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