What do you think the biggest burden on global health is at the moment?
The top three risk factors for global disease burden are high blood pressure, tobacco smoking (including second-hand smoke) and household air pollution from solid fuels (mainly fumes from traditional stoves ie in developing countries). This is a massive leap from 1990 when children being underweight was the largest disease burden; high blood pressure didn’t even rate in the top 3.
The largest study of its kind since 2000, published in the Lancet, evaluated the effects of risk factors for 21 regions in 1990 and 2010 and estimated the number of deaths attributable to these risk factors.
What did they find as the number one diet related cause of death?
It’s not too much soft-drink, sodium, physical inactivity or trans fats…
it was a diet low in fruit.
The Other Silent Killer
It is estimated that a diet low in fruit kills 15 times more people than consumption of soft-drinks. It’s important to note that soft-drink consumption has significant adverse affects on health. Just one or two cans per day increases the risk for heart disease and the development of type 2 diabetes. It is also one of the major causes of weight gain and obesity globally.
Interestingly, not eating enough vegetables causes 1.8 million deaths globally*. When you compare this number to not eating enough fruit, it makes you wonder why the RDI is still 2 servings per day in Australia.
How many deaths did a diet low in fruit cause in 2010?
Nearly 5 million.
The Fructose Myth
But, doesn’t fruit contain a lot of sugar? Surely too much fruit is bad for you! A few diet trends steer clear of high fructose fruits because they’re dubbed ‘unhealthy’ and some diets even proclaim that ‘we were designed only to metabolize the amount of sugar in two pieces of fruit per day.’ This is misinformation as numerous studies have shown the health benefits of eating more fruit daily.
An article published in a 2013 issue of the Harvard Health Letter contested that fructose is not harmful in the whole fruit as it is bound to the fibre which slows its absorption. Dr. Bruce Bistrian, a professor at Harvard Medical School, explains that ‘fruits are not harmful and even beneficial in almost any amount.‘ Fructose only poses problems when it is added to foods and drinks or when it is isolated from the whole fruit i.e. in fruit juice.
How Much Fruit is Too Much?
A study published in in 1971 (not the most recent study, but nonetheless interesting), 17 people were given 20 servings of fruit per day for 3 to 6 months. The amount of fructose in 20 servings of fruit is enormous; approximately 200gm – that’s the equivalent fructose level found in 8 cans of soft-drink. Surprisingly, the researchers found no adverse affects on body weight, blood pressure, insulin levels and lipid levels, and, if anything, improved those parameters.
A similar study in 2001, showed that a diet high in fruit (20 servings/day), vegetables (44 servings/day) and nuts (67gm/day) significantly lowered total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol. The combination of a high fruit, vegetable and nut diet had the same affects on cholesterol levels as a therapeutic dose of a statin: the standard drug treatment for dyslipidemia.
What About Diabetes?
People with type 2 diabetes shouldn’t be afraid of eating more fruit either, despite claims that fruit sugar makes the condition worse. In 2013, researchers gave newly diagnosed diabetic patients instructions to either eat more than 2 servings of fruit per day or no more than 2 servings per day for 12 weeks. Both groups lost weight and reduced waist circumference. The researchers noted that fruit intake should not be restricted in patients with type 2 diabetes in light of these findings.
Fruit contains fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavanoids and phenolic acids. Not to mention, it tastes delicious. Fruit is unfairly shamed and if anything, it would be beneficial to eat more of it everyday.
So the next time you reach for a bowl of cherries or wedge of watermelon, know that you’re doing your body a world of good.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article; feedback and questions are more than welcome. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope everyone has a wonderful week!
Love Stace x
*Data from 2010 Lancet study