Should you eat more fruit?
A recent story making the rounds of news services and blogs would suggest just that. A typical popular press headline says something like “Eating whole fruits reduces diabetes risk.” Then it says three fruits (blueberries, grapes, and apples) in particular are effective.
Now, most people seeing headlines like this would, in fact, try to eat more fruit. And, indeed, the conclusion of the article in the British Medical Journal was, “Overall, these results support recommendations on increasing consumption of a variety of whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples as a measure for diabetes prevention.”
This was despite the fact that some fruits, like cantaloupe, actually increased diabetes risk and others had no effect. Their questionnaires combined apples and pears, but they specified only apples, not pears. Why? They also combined grapes and raisins but recommend only eating more grapes. Why?
Even the New York Times has published a simplistic article on the results.
The problem with stories like this is that most people won’t remember the details. They’ll just remember “Whole fruit prevents diabetes,” or even just “Fruit prevents diabetes,” and they’ll go on eating lots of calories, including fast food, and then eat a bunch of grapes as a snack, thinking it will prevent diabetes.
I agree that eating whole fruit instead of fruit juice is healthy. The fiber in the whole fruit, as well as some compounds in the skin, can have beneficial effects. Substituting whole fruit for fruit juice, or substituting whole fruit for chocolate cake, is a healthy thing to do. But how many people will do this?
I’ve been a tad cynical about the average person’s comprehension of nutritional goals since I watched someone’s reaction to diet after she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the 1970s, when people with type 2 were told to eat a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. The message she got was not “Fat is bad” but “Carbs are good.” So she’d eat her regular meal and then go out into the kitchen and eat a lot of bread in addition, saying “Gotta eat my carbs” and thereby increasing not only her carb intake but her calorie intake as well.
I’m afraid people trying to avoid diabetes may have the same reaction to the fruit news. Eat as usual but add a piece of fruit.
It’s good to study these things. In the long run it will help to guide people in a healthy diet. It’s just too bad the popular press simplifies and sensationalizes the results in ways that can be harmful.