Healthy Living YMCA Health and Fitness

Does fruit count as sugar?

Cups filled with blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Processed sugar is literally addictive; when you eat it regularly, you’ll eventually have craving and withdrawal symptoms if you don’t indulge in a sweet treat. To kick a sugar addiction, you have to gradually wean yourself off the stuff, and endure what I know from personal experience to be a fairly unpleasant readjustment of your taste buds. (I used to think white Wonder Bread was kind of savoury; now, it tastes like gummy bears to me.)

Having drastically cut down on my processed sugar intake a few years ago, I was confused and concerned to hear people preaching about the dangers of eating too much fruit. Was it just as bad for me as all those tasty goodies I’d given up? Should I be carefully counting and capping my servings, instead of indiscriminately dumping whatever I could find into my smoothies?

Unsurprisingly, research shows it’s still better to reach for an apple than a Ferrero Rocher to satisfy your sweet tooth. Here’s why there’s some confusion about the sugar in fruit:

1. Some “fruit” products are candy in disguise

Many nutritionists warn against eating too much fruit because they recognize their clients think OJ counts as a healthy serving. Highly processed fruit-flavoured foods like juice, sweetened (as opposed to plain, or “sour”) yogurt, and even some dried fruits would probably be better categorized as dessert. So, advice to cut down on fruit intake actually usually means eating fewer “fruit-flavoured” sweet treats.

2. All sugar is not created equal

The sugar in fruit is not the same as the refined, highly processed sugar that gets artificially added to much of our food, including things (like white bread) that we don’t often think of as sweetened. Studies show that people don’t suffer any adverse health effects — and actually enjoy benefits — when they consume a daily amount of fruit-based sugar equivalent to the amount of processed stuff found in 8 cans of pop.

3. You may be under-eating fruit 

Even if there was a scientifically backed cap on the amount of fruit you should eat daily, you’d struggle to come anywhere near it. Research shows that the majority of Canadians shouldn’t be cutting back on fruit, but rather, trying to up their intake: only 1 in 10 Canadian kids are getting the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables daily. And about 60% of Ontarians eat fewer than five servings of fruits and veggies each day, when they should be eating 7–10.

So, fresh fruit should be the least of your nutrition worries: chances are you’re not getting enough of it. Before you ditch your morning smoothie routine, take a look at the other sources of sugar in your diet — including those you least expect, like savoury sauces and salad dressings.