Monday 18 February 2013

Nobody ever got fat from eating too much fruit

Recently there has been a spate of negativity surrounding fruit, fat loss and obesity with the majority of it being negative, this article especially from the daily mail insinuated that fruit, is in fact 'fuelling the obesity' epidemic. daily mail article i wouldn't bother reading

The studies often cited in such articles are actually discussing fructose syrup which is found in soft drinks and processed foods, which you just have to ask yourself why are you even eating these foods in the first place, cut these foods out and you cut out the dangers of eating too much fructose in it's syrup form. Common sense really.

There's also been a 'hate' campaign against fruit in the performance nutrition field as well as from the physique consultant aspect of the market recently with some of the more vocal twitter guru's insisting fruit should be banned from the diet as you cannot lose fat with fruit in the diet.

One of the key studies cited when discussing fructose in the diet is one which compared 2 groups, one eating a high carb diet with a large portion from fructose and the other group eating a large portion of their carbohydrates from glucose. The fructose group gained predominantly visceral stomach fat (intra-abdominal fat) whereas the glucose group gained mostly subcutaneous fat which is just below the skin and easier to lose. Point of note: Visceral fat is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. As well as the fat deposition the study also showed that during exercise when ingesting more fructose in the diet the body burns more carbohydrates initially during training than fat. Then there's the issue of insulin intensity which fructose has been shown to negatively affect. Insulin sensitivity is important as it is a key factor in how efficiently the body deals with carbohydrates.

So how and why does this happen?

Well fructose is processed in the liver and when there's an excess it is converted to fat which is then sent in to the blood stream, elevating blood triglyceride levels and it is this which causes an increase in LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and the decrease in insulin sensitivity, which as outlined above is not a good thing, it's important to note that high visceral fat (again outlined above) is linked to low insulin sensitivity too.

As you can see there is fair evidence to show that fructose specifically can have adverse effects if too much is consumed in an environment where too many calories are also consumed and that if eating it before training it can impair fat oxidisation.

However as with all things nutrition it is very much about context. It has become increasingly obvious to me that my job is simply about matching up the dots within clients diets, ironing out the consistent bad habits and replacing with consistently good dietary habits.

So is eating fruit really a bad habit? Of course it is not but add to the fact that not all fruits have the same nutritional profile and it's hard to understand why some feel a need to class 'all fruits as bad' anyway. It's actually a great habit to be eating a variety of fruit regularly. The problem arises when guru's, quacks and shit newspapers/magazines (i'd rather take advice on inter-racial gay marriage from the daily mail than their health advice) hand out advice based on research they don't really understand and are unable to present the context properly to improve the education of their audience. I will never understand why some people feel a need to speak on matter of which they do not understand, neither will i understand why some magazines and newspapers wish to lower their credibility by publishing sensationalist stories on nutrition, surely they should all be considering their social responsibility, however that's another article in itself.

The very simple fact is that people who are overweight did not get there by eating too much fruit, it is more than likely they got there by not eating enough fruit, simply because if they had eaten more fruit they would have more than likely had a much healthier set of dietary principles all round.

Fruit has many benefits, including being rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; rich in fibre, a quick and easy snack and it can help satisfy any sweet cravings. It also tastes great and is very versatile so i don't know why everyone wouldn't want the variety and benefits from fruits in their diet.

So how should you approach fruit?

If you're overweight and have no intention of changing your diet apart from adding fruit to your diet, then apart from being extremely stupid, don't, obviously as you're just adding more calories, if however you are looking for healthy snacks to replace the cans of fizzy drink, bag of crisps and chocolate bar then yes, choose fruit as a replacement.

If you're looking to get in to single digit body fat and your metabolism is shot due to months of dieting then you're unlikely to be able to cope with fruit and achieve your goal, this is from my experience of working with fitness models and bodybuilders who eliminate carbs as soon as they start a diet for a show/shoot, sometimes months out!

If you're a performance athlete then fruit can easily be accommodated in your diet as it is likely and should be the case that your overall calorific turnover is high anyway. Should you be a performance athlete that has to make weight then you'll have to be conscious of your overall calorie intake and you may wish to choose to limit fruit in your diet in order help you cut the calories.

If however you want to eat a healthy varied diet, high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants then include fruit in your diet when you fancy it, however if you're changing your diet to lose weight then simply opt for fruits with lower fructose content such as avocado, berries, grapefruit, pineapple, lemons and limes and limit the amount of high fructose fruits which include; bananas, apples, pears, grapes, melons, cherries and prunes. Most other fruits have a moderate fructose content, so only eat a moderate amount. If you simply opt for the lower fructose options for the bulk of your fruit intake you'll never have a problem anyway.

Take home message:
Fruit is not just pure fructose, it is also high in water content and fibre, most fruits per piece will still have a relatively small amount of fructose and carbohydrates, therefore use common sense, fruit is not bad, too much of anything is bad when you're overeating anyway and there are many other foods you should be eliminating from your diet before you vilify fruit.

Here's the research i refer to in this article:  Cox, C., Stanhope, K., et al. Consumption of Fructose-Sweetened Beverages for 10 Weeks Reduces Net Fat Oxidation and Energy Expenditure in Overweight/Obese Men and Women. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 2011

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