Modern American dietary guidelines tout fruit as an excellent source of nutrients and a food item one should eat regularly. In fact the USDA food pyramid recommends the consumption of two to four servings of fruit a day.
However, before you begin filling up on bananas you may want to consider the following questions:
1. When was the last time you had access to an heirloom variety (not hybrid) of a naturally growing fruit tree, bush or vine?
2. Do you understand that the fructose in fruit can actually cause insulin resistance faster than any other type of sugar?
3. How many weeks each year might a traditional, healthy tribal population have access to fresh picked fruit? And most importantly,
4. Are there other foods that do not affect your glycemic index negatively, putting you at risk for all kinds of disease that can provide just as many important nutrients as fruit?
An “heirloom” variety indicates produce which is in its original state, that is, produce that has not been hybridized with other varieties to produce a newer, more insect-resistant form of produce. Heirloom varieties of produce were the most common for thousands of years so one would think we would actually single out heirloom fruits by calling them such. However, heirloom varieties of produce are mainly only available at famers markets and now constitute a minority of the produce available for purchase. It’s easier for shopping and marketing purposes to label hybridized fruits and vegetables as “normal” while labeling the original produce of planet earth as “heirloom.”
The main difference between heirloom fruits and hybridized fruits was already mentioned above. Didn’t see it? It’s that hybridized produce is more insect-resistant than heirloom produce. But what does that mean? Well, heirloom produce is much more nutrient dense than hybridized. Perhaps insects’ instinctively dislike hybridized produce as it does not adequately meet their nutritional needs. Interestingly, insects still prefer heirloom varieties of fruit even though hybridized are much, much sweeter than heirloom.
While hybridized fruit is much healthier and preferable to conventional produce, it can still present a health risk because fruit contains fructose. The dangers of high amounts of fructose in fruit can appear misleading because few fructose molecules turn into glucose (blood sugar) and therefore do not appear to be causing the “glycemic” response. Sugars are metabolized in the body by both the pancreas and by the liver. Fructose is much more readily metabolized to fat in the liver than glucose. This can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This in turn leads to hepatic insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes.
Some fruits do contain a lot of nutrients. Kiwis and cherries are nutrient dense, but should only be consumed when they are in season as they are sweet and can cause insulin resistance if consumed year round. Cherries convert to sugar in the body at a much slower rate than options such as peaches and watermelon. Remember, a hybridized fruit is made to be insect resistant and able to be grown year-round. A hybridized kiwi which is unnaturally grown year-round is not an excellent source of nutrition. Apples are also a good source of nutrients but most apples today are hybridized and far sweeter than the original heirloom apples. They may not be as sugary as other fruit however, so apples can be a good choice, if consumed seasonally. The pectin in apples allows the body to metabolize their sugar slowly, thus not overwhelming the liver with fructose.
The best fruit of all is probably berries as they contain a higher concentration of various antioxidants. You get more nutrient bang for your fructose buck when it comes to berries. Berries tend to be less sweet and contain less fructose than other fruits as well. However, in order to grow them year round and make them sweeter, farmers are busy hybridizing berries. Strawberries have been so hybridized they really don’t resemble their original form at all. As a result they are too full of sugar to be nutritionally worth the consumption. Since they grow in the ground they also tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides. Blackberries and blueberries are considered two of the most nutrient-dense berries with the least sugar. However, we recommend all berries, except for strawberries.
Typically, color in produce indicates nutrients. The deeper the color of a fruit, the more nutrients it contains. This is particularly true of blueberries. Regular, hybridized, organic blueberries are often white inside when they are sliced open. The interior of a wild, heirloom blueberry is quite dark. Wild blueberries are significantly more expensive than those in the grocery store because they are lower on the blueberry bush and therefore much more difficult to harvest. However, the price difference is made up by nutrients. David Getoff, instructor of Attaining Optimal Health in the 21st Century course has discovered research showing an increase ranging from 200% to 300% in the amount of nutrients in wild blueberries compared to cultivated blueberries. He still recommends cultivated (organic) blueberries as a nutritious and health-promoting fruit. Vital Choice blueberries are an excellent option as they are organic and wild. A slightly less expensive option is Wyman’s blueberries. Wyman’s blueberries are also wild but they cannot be considered organic as they are fertilized. However, they are not sprayed so they are still a good option.
One “form” of fruit that should rarely, if ever, be consumed is fruit juice. Fruit juice, even 100% fruit juice, is loaded with sugar and overwhelms the body’s metabolic response. Commercially processed fruit juices are usually made at a high temperature which destroys many of the juice’s beneficial enzymes and nutrients. More importantly, fruit juice doesn’t contain any of the fiber which slows down sugar conversion in the body. Fruit is most nutritious when in its whole state, not when separated from its fibers and flesh.
So how to determine when and what fruit to eat? The following should be your guidelines:
- Is this fruit in season and locally grown?
- Is this fruit heirloom (usually found at the farmer’s market)?
- Does this fruit have a lower glycemic index so that it converts to sugar slowly in the body and does not overwhelm my system?
Answering these questions before choosing which fruit to eat can be very beneficial to your health. However, remember the fruits listed above are also generally the healthiest options for you. Most importantly, remember there are a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as pastured, grass-fed, organic meat and healthy fats from pastured, grass-fed butter and organic, extra-virgin coconut oil.