Over the years, many women have told me they are trying to “eat better and stay away from sugar.” They go on to tell me they have heard they should stay away from most fruits because of “the high sugar content.” They ask me if this is correct or a lie.
It is true that most fruit naturally contains sugar. However, fruit fits my basic dietary guideline of eat what grows on a plant not what is manufactured in a plant. So, is fruit ok or not ok to eat?
Another trustworthy and simple dietary guidelines is to eat colorful foods and stay away from white ones.
Most white foods (with the exception of cauliflower) are high glycemic and best left off your plate or consumed in small amounts.
So, what about corn? What color is corn? Does it count as a “white food” or is it yellow? It’s a valid question despite the obvious inclination to shout “yellow!” It is technically a grain, and when popped, it’s white.
But what I find is that people are not really asking me about the color of corn. What they are actually asking is, “is corn a healthy part of a meal?”
Both of these questions (fruit and corn) really come down to a question of “what is the healthiest way for me to eat?” This is a very good question. Afterall, we are surrounded by varied (and conflicting) advice all the time!
There are a lot of very smart, well-researched authors and experts giving nutritional advice … that directly contradicts what other very smart, well-researched authors and experts are saying. How frustrating is that?! This creates indecision in those of us wanting to create healthy habits.
Digestion & the Glycemic Index
Let’s break for a minute to get scientific. We’ll come back to fruit and corn in a minute.
Every time you eat, your body breaks down the food into building blocks. The food breaks into sugar, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals along with a few other things. We are going to focus on the sugar part of that breakdown.
When you eat anything that has carbohydrates they turn into sugar in your body. Your body needs some sugar, so don’t worry about that. What we do need to look at is how fast and how high our blood sugar (blood glucose) goes.
First, let’s look at a balanced meal with not too much sugar. You eat a meal and your body breaks it down into building blocks. The sugar is used as energy. Perfect.
Now let’s look at a meal where there are lots of unbalanced carbohydrates. When you suddenly have a lot of glucose (sugar) in your blood, your body releases extra insulin to make sure the excess glucose is stored for later use. Thus, the glucose is sent to your fat cells. BUT there’s still insulin hanging out in your blood looking for glucose to store, so your body sends your brain signals that you need to eat again. You feel famished. (Yes, even though you just ate.)
A perfect example of this in my own life is when I’ve eaten Chinese food. Jon and I used to go to an amazing restaurant when we lived in Alaska. The food was delicious and we would leave stuffed-full. I could never understand why I was so hungry just an hour later. Well, it comes down to a thing called the glycemic index.
The glycemic index is a measurement of how slowly or how quickly a food causes an increase in blood glucose levels. Harvard Health says:
Foods low on the glycemic index (GI) scale tend to release glucose slowly and steadily. Foods high on the glycemic index release glucose rapidly. Low GI foods tend to foster weight loss, while foods high on the GI scale help with energy recovery after exercise …
All the white rice in that huge dish of Chinese food I ate has a high glycemic index. In fact, it is even higher than white table sugar! Yikes! So my blood glucose spiked, a bunch of insulin was released to deal with the excess sugar, the glucose was shuttled to my fat cells, and then my insulin was hanging around looking for more sugar to take care of–thus, the hunger right after I ate!
Back to Fruit
When someone is looking at fruit and corn, wondering if they are healthy or too high in sugar, what they really want to know is how that food affects their blood glucose and fat storage.
Fruit is sweet. It does contain a lot of sugar. However, the sugar it contains is fructose (which is low glycemic) not glucose (very high glycemic.) Bananas are often blamed for being “high in sugar,” but the glycemic index (remember, that’s how fast it affects your blood glucose) is low! Most fruits in their natural state are low glycemic. (If you start processing them by canning them with syrup or drying them, the GI will go up.)
So back to the question: Do I have to avoid fruit because it’s full of sugar?
The answer is no. Fruit in its natural state is healthy and an excellent part of your daily diet.
What About Corn?
Does the same hold true for corn? Well, let’s look at how it impacts the body. The GI is only 55 which is the cut off for “low,” so that’s great news. Unfortunately, there’s another part of the picture to consider. And that is the overall impact of one serving. That’s the glycemic load. (I talked a little bit about this in the video above.) The glycemic load of corn is very high. Which means we need to treat corn almost like a sweet dessert.
So back to the question: Do I have to avoid corn?
Avoid it? No. Treat it like a sweet treat? Yes.
At the beginning of this post, I said that experts are constantly contradicting each other. While this is true (and frustrating,) they generally agree on one point. Real food is always better than processed food. When I say “real food,” I’m talking about foods that are natural. Foods that your great-grandma would recognize. Foods that are not refined, fried, or packaged. The most healthy “diets” and advice all have at their foundation, a movement away from processed and packaged foods.
I have found Lisa Leake to be very helpful on my own journey to find real foods. You can find her book 100 Days of Real Food on Amazon and read her definition of “real food” on her blog.
Most real foods are lower on the glycemic index than processed foods. If you want to find out where your favorite foods fall on the glycemic index, check out this chart from Harvard.
In general, the closer you can get to how God created the food, the healthier it is for you. Focus on filling your food with colorful, natural foods. Add colorful berries to your plain, no-sweetener added, yogurt. Top your old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal with fruit. Mix together several chopped up fruits in a delicious fruit salad. Click here to grab your free Healthy Eating on the Go PDF.
Enjoy your fruit.