I have had some holiday time visiting the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, where the Rātā trees are in full bloom – we use Rātā honey for our lozenges and it’s wonderful seeing the source of all that goodness.
On the way through to the West Coast, we stopped in Roxburgh for some "pick-your-own" cherries. Naturally, I over-indulged, what beats cherries straight off the tree in the Central Otago sunshine?
After the cherry expedition, my husband and I went to watch a game of cricket and in the first hour of the game, I had to visit some rather unsavoury Porta-loos three times! My husband found it highly amusing as he was completely unaffected by our cherry gorging.
It got me thinking about the different types of fruits and fibres and why our systems cope with some better than others.
It is important to try to have a range of fruits for the digestive health benefits of the fibres, but also the different vitamins and plant polyphenols – compounds which help reduce inflammation and promote good immunity and general health.
However, the flip side of fruit consumption is that fruits can be high in sugars – fructose, glucose and sucrose in varying proportions. These sugars can cause a blood-sugar spike which may be problematic for metabolic health and for people with diabetes.
The levels of fibre in the fruit can balance this – for example, soluble fibre can help slow down digestion and the rate at which the gut absorbs glucose - which, in turn, can buffer elevations in blood sugar, so it’s important for those with metabolic issues to find fruits high in fibre with a lower sugar content.
I spoke with my sister-in-law, Dr Helen Murphy, who is an endocrinologist and specialises in diabetes (types 1 and 2) and she recommends to her patients to eat fruit like kiwifruit, apples, oranges and berries ahead of fruits like mangos, bananas and grapes. She also recommends staying away from dried fruit, or limiting consumption of dried fruit, like dates to 2-3 a day (rather than the handful I often scoff!).
For those of you trying to shift the kilos in the new year, it’s worth noting the anti-obesity mechanisms of fruit (see diagram below from Sharma et al, Nutrients).
And finally, in what set me in this exploratory path, why does fruit sometimes cause digestive issues?
In the case of cherries, they are high in insoluble fibres which is a great thing for digestive health but unlikely to be the culprit which caused my porta-loo visits.
Cherries also contain sorbitol and xylitol, both of which are sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are a group of low-calorie, sweet-tasting compounds that occur naturally in some foods and are also commonly used in sugar-free products like energy drinks.
When they are consumed in large amounts, it can have a “laxative effect.” Unlike regular sugar, the intestines don’t absorb sugar alcohols, instead, they draw water into the gut, which can soften hard stool and increase the muscle contractions that move the stool along. In small amounts this is very healthy, but overindulgence can cause issues.
So why was my husband not affected?
The exact amount a person can tolerate varies according to you your personal sensitivity to sugar alcohols and whether you have any underlying gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
So, my New Years’ message out of all of that – eat a good variety of fruits in your diet – science supports their consumption for managing obesity and promoting a health gut ecosystem, immunity and general health. But do be aware of the type of fruits you eat if you do have metabolic issues - and try not to eat too much of any one kind in a single outing 😊
Happy New Year and we look forward to sharing 2024 with you!
Cheers, Anna and Darcy.
If you would like to discuss any of this further, please contact Darcy or Anna (who you can contact at +64 27 599 2255 or +64 27 4861418 respectively) or via firstname.lastname@example.org.