When I was a kid, the hippie parents called raisins and apples "nature's candy" at Halloween. Like any self-respecting child, I dreaded those solid thunks of goodness dropped into our plastic pumpkins in lieu of candy.
But it turns out those parents were on to something. Depending on the fruit, and the delivery method, fruit can function in the body much as sugar does. I learned this recently as part of my involvement in Weight Watchers, which I'm trying for the first time. (I'm down 12 pounds, thanks!) According to Weight Watchers' points program, whole fruits and veggies are "free" — you can eat as much of them as you like. But blend that banana or that handful of strawberries into a smoothie? Then the fruit counts towards your daily allotment of points, which is Weight Watchers' shortcut way to track food.
My partner, who is on a low-sugar/high-protein plan through his nutritionist (he isn't trying to lose weight but to deal with inflammation), is likewise discouraged from blending fruit, though he can eat a limited number of pieces of whole fruit. Since sugar is linked with increasing inflammation, anything that spikes his blood sugar is verboten. It's a given that cookies and cupcakes are out, but so are smoothies and fresh juices.
That's because blending or juicing fruit makes it much easier for your body to access those carbs and calories, and most people want the opposite to happen.
"The fiber in whole fruit 'acts as a net' to slow down the process by which the body turns sugar from food into blood sugar," according to The New York Times. When you blend fruit, those whirring blades cut through the very fiber that keeps your blood sugar levels smooth and keeps you feeling full for longer.
Think about all the fruit that would go into a smoothie: A banana, a cup of berries and half a mango — and how long it would take to eat that — compared to how fast you could drink them all in a thick beverage.
Basically, blending is doing the work your stomach and gut should be doing, which takes both energy and time to digest. Breaking down the fiber in fruit not only slows down the release of the sugars, it gives the body more time to absorb the vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds. You're likely to eat a whole piece of fruit more slowly, digest it more slowly and ultimately eat less than if you blended it.
For most people, two to four servings of whole fruit a day is healthy: "For example, one whole orange provides about 17 grams of carbs, around 12 of which are natural sugar. But that orange also supplies fluid, 12 percent of your daily fiber, nearly 100 percent of your vitamin C needs, B vitamins, potassium, and compounds like herperidin — which has been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and act as an anti-inflammatory," writes nutritionist Cynthia Sass on Health.com.
Sass also suggests eating fruit in the morning or before you exercise, as opposed to late at night when the sugars will be more likely to be stored than used for energy. But if you have a choice between fruit or something else sweet at night that's sugary (like ice cream or cookies), fruit is still a healthier option. However, when you can, eat your fruit whole and unprocessed. (And if you call it "nature's candy," I promise it will taste sweeter!)
Struggling with how to eat certain fruits whole? Mangoes can be especially tricky. This video shows you how:
And here's another video on how to eat kiwi whole: