Bitter in the sweet

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IT IS common for medical, health and nutritional experts to advise people to consume several servings of fruits a day. However, they fall short of telling us what kind of fruits to eat.

It is unfortunate that evidence on the health benefits of fruits is mainly gleaned from research conducted on fresh, organic berries and citric fruits, and not the very sweet fruits (which contain high levels of fructose).

Sadly, many people use sweetness as a criterion for selecting fruits.

Fructose (fruit sugar) is widely used as a principal ingredient in many meal substitutes aimed at reducing body weight. Yes, you may lose weight but what you are losing is not fat but bone materials since sugar is acidic.

While the glycaemic index (GI) is useful in assessing the health implication of consuming refined starches and sugar-laden foods, the GI measurement of fructose is flawed since the body metabolises this particular sugar rather differently compared to most other dietary sugars.

Excess fructose seems much more harmful than glucose to people with a strong family history of diabetes even though its GI is rather low.

Diabetes promoter

Fructose promotes a pre-diabetic condition known as insulin resistance, which is a promoter of Syndrome X.

This metabolic syndrome is linked to a number of modern-day chronic health disorders such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, obesity and heart disease (Johnson, R et al, 2007).

Guava and bitter melon are known to lower blood sugar levels, while fruits like ciku, watermelon, honeydew and rambutan could do otherwise.

The higher our level of blood sugar, the higher our level of the fat-storing hormone, insulin. When our insulin level is high, our body’s production of the youthful growth hormone is significantly reduced.

And we gain body fat rather quickly since elevated insulin causes more hunger spells through its hypoglycaemic effect.

Elevated uric acid

Sweet fruits are a major promoter of hyperuricemia, which contributes to the formation of gout and kidney stones.

It is not true that beans and nuts are the only source of uric acid. Studies have showed that fructose is the only sugar which raises uric acid concentrations.

Yeast infection

Nutritional therapists would advise their patients not to consume on a daily basis overly-ripe fruits or packaged fruit juices since they usually contain higher levels of not only sugar but also fungi which can possibly lead to candidiasis.

Chemical hazard

According to the Penang Consumers Association, apples sold in this country contain several layers of sprayed chemicals making them a potential health hazard when their skin is peeled or when bruised.

Furthermore, these apples were harvested many months before they reach consumers here. A substantial amount of nutrients ‘disappear’ within a few weeks of harvesting and storage despite refrigeration.

On the other hand, our local non-genetically-modified guava has at least a dozen times more vitamin C than imported apples.


Consumption of excessively sweet fruits slows down bowel movement. In addition, refined starch and sugars strongly promote colorectal tumours, fungal growth in intestines and low immunity.

Before or after meals

In the past, nutritionists and healthcare professionals have advised their clients to eat fruits before meals or to have a glass of (packaged) fruit juice before breakfast.

However, recent research has produced evidence that people should make the choice of when to eat fruits based on their own physiological needs.

For instance, if one wishes to put on weight or does not mind experiencing some form of hypoglycaemia hours later, then eating sweet fruits or drinking fruit juice before meals is the ‘solution’.

The appetite suppression hormone leptin is not triggered if sweet food is consumed on an empty stomach. But, beware, sweetness can trigger the release of the fat-storing hormone, insulin.

In the case of fresh and not-so-ripe fruits such as pineapple or papaya which contain digestive enzymes, eating them after a meal may help in food digestion.

However, their enzymes may hurt your stomach wall if consumed long before a meal.

Better choices

Most freshly-harvested fruits free from pesticides are healthy. Vegetables such as cucumber, bell pepper, chili, bitter melon, and egg plant are actually fruits, whereas kiwi and banana belong to the berry family.

Popular local fruits with lower fructose content include guava, jambu air, pomegranate, pomelo and mangosteen.

If you are eating fruits for their vitamin C, you need to know that harvesting, packaging, storage, refrigeration and serving methods all reduce this highly-fragile nutrient, which is destroyed at just 44°C.

Regular consumption of freshly-harvested citric fruits and berries are associated with lower cardiovascular and cancer risks.


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