What A -- Uh -- Load (May 9, 2017)
Last time we met, I was talking about sugar, particularly the sugar in fruit, and how anyone who tells you not to eat fruit because it has the same sugar in it as table sugar should be hung out to dry. Or maybe just politely corrected. You be the judge.
I wish today to develop that idea a little further, although I am very tempted instead to denounce a nutritional abomination that was recently brought to my attention known as “bulletproof coffee”. But, as the prophet said, Waiting Is.
To recap, fruit does indeed contain the same sugar as do Moon Pies and other sugary delights. However, this fact is essentially meaningless because of the following:
1) Fruit has a whole lot LESS sugar in it than any random pastry you might want to name;
2) Fruit has a whole lot MORE stuff in it besides sugar. So much so that you are depriving your body of important nutrients if you avoid fruit; and
3) Probably most importantly, the sugar in fruit is handled entirely different by your body than the sugar in, say, Kool Aid. And in the end, it’s what your body does with the thing you ingest that makes it a problem or not. Of all the different ways your body deals with fruit versus how it disposes of Little Debbies, probably the most important difference is that the procedure it goes through with fruit does NOT spike the blood sugar.
The blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes) that occur when you eat sugar in its processed forms are very, very bad news. Your body HATES high blood sugar at any time. Sugar levels above a certain point are damaging in many ways, and your body will move heaven and earth to not have to endure such a thing for a moment longer than necessary.
It does THAT by pumping out insulin. Insulin, as you know, is a hormone dispensed by the pancreas to lower blood sugar and is what diabetics have to take to keep their chronically high blood sugar levels under control. But a high insulin level is a problem in itself -- your body doesn’t like to have a lot of insulin hanging around either. All this is not even to mention the crash in blood sugar that occurs when your panic-stricken body pumps out too much insulin to get that sugar gone as soon as possible. This roller coaster of blood sugar in otherwise healthy people over many years is thought to set them on the road to diabetes, which is a place that even United Airlines would never go.
For a very long time, diabetics have been told to avoid blood sugar spikes. This is something we are starting to learn is very important for the average person as well. You want to treat your blood sugar like a nervous little filly, keeping it quietly within range without any sudden jumps or drops. One very important tool to accomplish this has been the use of the “glycemic index”, and here is where it gets really interesting.
The glycemic index (or “GI” from here on) is supposed to be a measure of how rapidly a food can raise blood sugar. Pure glucose has a GI of 100, and anything with a GI of over 55 should be avoided by diabetics. The GI of table sugar (sucrose) is 65. For white bread, it’s 75.
And bananas have a glycemic index of 48. Hah! That’s pretty close to 55, chortle the fruit haters. Bananas are obviously getting into questionable territory. And look at watermelon! It has a GI of 72! Yaaaah! Fruit will kill you! Eat pepperoni instead!
So when you hear that fruit is bad for you, that’s what it's based on. There are a number of fruits with a GI above 55. Logic, reason, and science, therefore, tell us that fruit – at least some fruits – will spike your blood sugar and thus are bad for you.
So am I wrong about all fruit being healthy? Oh, please.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the people who originally devised the glycemic index certainly met that qualification. Here is the procedure that they use to determine a food's glycemic index. See if you can spot their mistake.
They start by extracting all the carbohydrates from a given food until they get 50 grams of it. Then they feed that to someone and see how much his/her blood sugar goes up. That gives you the glycemic index of that food. You see the problem here? Yes? I am so proud of you!
Of course. NOBODY eats 50 grams of broccoli carbs, and not just because it sounds so disgusting. They eat 50 grams of BROCCOLI. Itself. The food broccoli. Not the yukky test tube extract from it. Only mice and college students would ever do THAT.
I’m not sure how long it took those scientists to figure out how big a pile they had stepped in with the glycemic index. But when they finally did do so, they manfully owned up to their error and solved it -- with a second number. THAT is probably why people are so confused about this stuff now.
But it’s really not that hard. You don’t have to do the math, you can just look it up, the same way we used to do GI. That’s what phones are for. Someone else has done all the work, which I am very, very much in favor of, always.
To get that second number – the “glycemic load” -- you take the GI of the food, multiply it by the number of grams of carbohydrate that are actually present in a serving of that food, then divide by 100. I am simplifying here, but essentially that’s the idea. You can see how it would be a much better approximation of what said food actually does in the body than the GI.
When you get through fooling around with watermelon, its heart-stopping GI of 72 has turned into a much more placid glycemic load of 8. (You want to stay at 10 or below as an acceptable measurement for glycemic load.)
Some other unfairly maligned fruits are as follows:
Fruit Glycemic Index Glycemic Load
Apricots 57 5
Kiwi 58 7
Peach 56 5
Cantaloupe 65 4
See? Just what I said. If you eat the whole fruit, you’re golden. Nutrition always comes back to “eat real food, not too much, mostly plants”. I don’t know of a single piece of evidence that contradicts that statement. And THAT is pretty firm ground to be standing on.
--dr. diane holmes
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