Watching Natural Sugar Levels
By: Mary Williams BA (hons) - Updated: 3 Oct 2012
Fruit and vegetables make excellent sweeteners in some recipes but those who have to watch their overall sugar levels do need to be a little wary. While general thinking is that fructose found naturally in fruit and vegetables is certainly healthier than processed white sugar, it will still have the effect of raising sugar levels within the body. Diabetics, therefore, and anyone else needing to monitor their sugar intake, should be aware that some foods contain high levels of natural sugar and these need to be balanced carefully into an overall diet plan.
Sugar in Dried Fruit
Dried fruits can be very high in natural sugar, which is why they make excellent substitutes for white sugar in recipes. Raisins, prunes, dried apricots and dates are all low in water and high in fructose. A handful of raisins, for example, will have far more sugar than a handful of grapes – and about six times as many calories. So while dried fruit may be high in vitamins, minerals and fibre – and prunes, in particular, are high in antioxidants – they will put sugar into the blood stream very quickly. The fact that dried fruit is also smaller than fresh fruit means we tend to eat more of it at any one sitting - so be wary.
Sweet Fresh Fruit
Some fresh fruits are also particularly high in natural sugar. The basic rule of thumb is that the sweeter the fruit tastes, the higher it is likely to be in sugar. Watch out for cherries, bananas and grapes, as well as tangerines and mangoes. Pineapples, oranges and plums also have a fairly high sugar content. Those keen to reduce their sugar intake but also wishing to satisfy a fruit craving should try raspberries, blackberries or cranberries. Or if you can steel yourself against its tart low sugar taste, rhubarb.
One popular misconception is that pure fruit juice is sugar free. While it may be free from artificial sweeteners or added sugars, pure juice does tend to have a very high fructose content. Juices bought in cartons or bottles have had most of the fibre removed and should therefore be consumed very carefully and in moderation by those needing to keep their sugar levels down. If you do fancy a fresh fruit boost it is far better to eat the whole fruit. Or why not make yourself a smoothie? Although this is likely to still have a high sugar content, by containing the fruit pulp it should also be packed with fibre, which will slow the progress of the sugar into the blood stream. Similarly, freshly squeezed orange juice is better than smooth.
Don’t forget that some vegetables are also high in natural sugar. Think how well some of them caramelise when roasted and how sweet they can become. Peas, sweet potatoes, butternut squashes and pumpkins all make great recipe sweeteners because they are high in natural sugars. Unless you consume vast amounts of these vegetables or are looking to follow a low carb diet, you are unlikely to have a problem with the sugars in these foods, however. But those seeking to reduce natural sugar intake could always endeavour to consume their five portions a day through lower sugar vegetables, such as cauliflower, bean sprouts, spinach and lettuce.
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