"An apple a day keeps the doctor away," the old saying goes, but did you know that some fruits are hidden sugar mines? This seems like nature's evil joke, tricking us into thinking we're being healthy when really we're downing tablespoons of sugar, doesn't it? "Forbidden fruit," it seems, is a very all too real.
But before swearing off the fruit section of the grocery store for good, take note that only a few are high glycemic. "It's important to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables for optimal health, but some fruits are dense with sugar and lack fibre," says Paula Simpson, RNCP and co-founder of Zea Skin Solutions.
"These types of fruits are considered 'high glycemic,' meaning they're rapidly digested, causing quick spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels," she continues. "This hill-and-valley response can increase risks of insulin resistance, lethargy, sugar cravings (due to unbalanced blood sugar levels) and weight gain over the long term."
All nutritionists we surveyed agreed that berries and apples are the healthiest fruits. For example, one raspberry or blueberry has just one calorie. Apples and berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries) have a high fibre content, which ticks off the boxes for optimal digestion and healthy blood glucose levels. Below, we've called out the most sugar-laden fruits.
Simpson says lychees have 29 grams of sugar in one cup and 2.5 grams of fibre (fruits that provide less than 2.5 grams of fibre per serving are considered low in fibre), which is more than a can of Red Bull.
According to nutritionist Jenny Champion, MS, RD, CDE, "Perhaps mangos are synonymous with tropical vacations (and splurging!) for a reason: One cup has almost 23 grams of sugar. That's almost the same as a bar of Dairy Milk Caramel."
Bananas are a great grab-and-go option when you're feeling healthy, but in reality, they're actually 25% sugar. Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, says that while they're a good source of potassium and other micronutrients, "there are many other fruits that offer so much more, like blueberries and raspberries."
According to Simpson, one small fig has eight grams of sugar and only one gram of fibre—great on a charcuterie board, but maybe not so great for our blood glucose levels.
Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, says it's easy to overeat cherries, and at 18 grams of sugar in one cup, that can add up quickly.
We prefer our grapes in wine form, but popping them as a snack seems healthy enough. According to Champion, though, "The suggested serving size for grapes is 17 of them. When is the last time you stopped at 17 grapes? Exactly. The other problem? They're not doing your daily fibre goals any favours with less than one gram per serving." Also, one cup of grapes has 15 grams of sugar—yikes!
Maria Bella, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Top Balance Nutrition, says pineapple is high in sugar (16 grams in one cup, to be exact) and calories, but in that same vein, pineapple also has manganese which helps control blood sugar. In other words, pineapple is a bit of a give-and-take, so it's best to limit your servings.
Fat content can also be an issue with fruits. Says Bella, "Not too many people think of coconut as a fruit, but it is a fruit of the coconut palm tree. Coconut flesh is very high in calories and fat. I would be cautious with the amount consumed, especially if you are watching your weight."
According to Simpson, dried fruits are the "worst culprits." One cup of dried dates contains a whopping 113 grams of sugar. Elissa Goodman, IHN, adds, "The process of drying fruit reduces water content and concentrates sugar, up to triple the amount of the fresh version. When you consider that I recommend 25 grams of sugar or less for women per day, that doesn't leave a lot of room for dried fruit and definitely requires moderation when eating fresh fruit. This much sugar increases toxicity in the body, contributes to even more sugar cravings and increases your risk for all disease, in particular, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure."
Keeping this all in mind, know that sugar-heavy fruits aren't the enemy—it's all about moderation. Plus, they still provide vital nutrients and necessary carbs that don't make them as abysmal as, say, a can of soda or a piece of candy. "Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet—especially those of us who are highly active," Bella says. "A cup of pineapple with reduced-fat yoghurt, or one slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter and half a banana can make a good pre-workout snack.
"In order to get all the benefits without overdoing it on calories and carbs, mix and match the types of fruits you consume and spread out your fruit intake throughout the day, always pairing it with a source of protein and healthy fat (which curb hunger). Try to have six colours of total produce daily, shifting the focus on abundance instead of restriction."
Opening Image: Seed and Savour