Monday 27 January 2020

The truth about fruit and sugar

A top dentist's warning over raisins will have worried parents. So just how nutritious is your fruit snack?

Healthy treat? Fruit has more sugar than you might expect, so whole fruits are best
Healthy treat? Fruit has more sugar than you might expect, so whole fruits are best

Ailin Quinlan

The warning by an award-winning dentist that the lunch-time raisins popular with so many schoolchildren contain nearly as much sugar as a can of Coke, has surprised many health-conscious parents.

However last night families received a further caution - this time from two of Ireland's top diet and nutrition experts.

Fruit juices, too, are high in sugar - and their consumption should also be restricted, they say.

Instead parents are advised to actively encourage children to consume whole, fresh fruit - and to ideally have two or three pieces a day.

Despite the fact that many mums believe a little bag or box of raisins is a healthy lunch-time snack for schoolchildren, just 50g of raisins contains an eye-watering seven-and-a-half teaspoons or 30g of sugar, reveals consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin.

This, she warns, is significantly more than even the recommended amount of sugar adults should consume in a day (a can of Coke has about 33g of sugar).

"The World Health Organisation says that no adult should eat more than six teaspoons of sugar a day.

"Dried fruit is very concentrated in sugar.

"I don't recommend giving raisins to small children in their lunchbox. I don't feel they are a healthy food choice for small children," declares Godkin.

She's also not a fan of grapes (of which raisins are a dried form), because, she says, they are extremely high in sugar - in fact, she observes, grapes contain about twice as much sugar as an apple.

While dried fruit is certainly a useful snack for people with high energy needs, such as athletes, explains consultant dietitian Paula Mee, it can be bad for the teeth, particularly if children are eating a lot of it and not brushing their teeth afterwards.

"The problem with dried fruit is that it sticks to the teeth and long after you have finished it, and there are little bits of sugar in your teeth which with bacteria help cause dental cavities," says Mee.

Their warnings follow comments by dentist Dr Gillian Smith that over-consumption of raisins is contributing to tooth decay in young children.

Large numbers of children were presenting with cavities or holes in their teeth, reported Dr Smith, pointing out that these were caused by sugar.

She was aware, she said, that many parents were giving their children a box of raisins in their lunchbox - but she warned, raisins were both sticky and extremely high in sugar.

As a result they can get stuck both between a child's teeth and on the biting surfaces of the teeth.

If schoolchildren are having them during their 11 o'clock morning break, the tiny sugary lumps can remain stuck in the child's teeth for hours - maybe until bedtime which is often the next time a child's teeth come into contact with a toothbrush.

However, on the upside, people need not be concerned about the sugar in whole fresh fruit says Godkin.

That's because fruit sugars, or fructose, come with fibre, which slows down the absorption of the sugar.

She recommends that children eat two to three pieces of whole fruit a day - apples, bananas, plums, kiwis or oranges, for example.

There can be 11g or 12g of natural sugar in an apple, for example - but explains Mee, it's 'good' sugar, and its effects are 'buffered' by the fibre and the myriad of other nutrients in the fruit, such as vitamins and minerals:

"The sugar in fresh fruit is good sugar. There's no recommendation from WHO about not eating fresh fruit!"

Godkin and Mee warn against the over-consumption of fruit juices: "We were designed to eat fruit whole, not to be slugging it back in a juice," says Godkin.

"Fruit juices are very concentrated forms of sugar, even when you make them at home. Two or three pieces of fruit a day is good for children.

A good general rule for bemused parents, explains Mee, is to simply avoid the consumption of too much 'processed' fruit - either in the form of fruit juice or dried fruit:

"There's a lot of sugar in fruit juice," explains: "You couldn't eat eight oranges in a row, but theoretically you could squeeze eight oranges into a large glass and drink it very quickly," she explains.

"Think of a bowl of apples and a jug of apple juice - which is easier to eat?

"We don't need to be juicing everything. Fruit juice is okay in moderation, as is dried fruit, but some people are going overboard on juices," she says, adding that one small glass of fruit juice per day is sufficient.

"It's not fresh fruit that we need to cut out, but fruit that we have processed or tampered with, to turn it, for example into a juice or into dried fruit."

If parents are genuinely worried about sugar intake, she says, they should also look very seriously at reducing the amounts of cakes, pastries, biscuits and chocolate their children consume.

"Most people are not getting enough fruit and vegetables, and it is really important for our health that we don't get the messages mixed up.

"Have fruit whole and in moderation and be cautious about your intake of fruit juice and your consumption of dried fruit.

"One small glass of fruit juice a day is recommended - it is recommended as one of your five-a-day."

Irish Independent

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