Thursday, July 28, 2011

War on Fruits

How many times have you read recently that you should eat more fruits and vegetables?

It's today's fad mantra. Want to lose weight? Eat more fruits and vegetables. Feeling sad? Eat more fruits and vegetables. Credit card maxed out? Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes I think we should just make it one word: fruitsandvegetables.

When I read one article that claimed that people in previous centuries ate lots of fruitsandvegetables my tolerance limit was reached.

That's idiotic!

Sure, there wasn't as much junk food in past centuries. But then, as now, poor people couldn't afford expensive fruits, or even vegetables unless they grew their own. Oranges were considered a rare luxury. Then, as now, poor people had to eat a lot of starches like bread and potatoes to get sufficient calories.

Even rich people didn't feast on lots of fruitsandvegetables. Here's a menu from Queen Victoria's household on her 80th birthday. I don't see a lot of fruits there. A few vegetables, but mostly meat and fish and eggs.

Here's an article describing what people ate in Boston restaurants in the 19th century. Like Queen Victoria's household menu, the restaurants seemed heavy on lots of meat courses, thick sauces, and pastry. Certainly not what today's nutritionists would recommend. Not a lot of emphasis on salads. Fruit was offered at the end, but only after a pastry course.

Here's another 19th century menu so heavy on meats that it makes me slightly nauseous to read it . . . and I'm on a low-carb diet! They do offer some fruit at the end, but by that time you'd probably be so stuffed with meat, game birds, lobster, and fish that you wouldn't have much room to stuff yourself with fruit.

I have nothing against eating more vegetables, limiting them to the low-carb ones like greens and other above-ground vegetables except peas and corn if you have diabetes. But fruits are full of sugar. If you have diabetes, it's not a good idea to eat a lot of fruit.

It's time we came to our senses and got rid of the fruitsandvegetables mantra. It's time we stopped thinking of some past Golden Age when everyone ate lots of lean meat (people in the 19th century would have guffawed at the idea of lean meat; they added bacon or lard to meat to make it juicier) and fruitsandvegetables and low-fat dairy and had glowing skin and never got fat.

Let's separate fruits from vegetables and eat less of the former and more of the latter. Let's focus on the carb counts of foods rather than whether they're fruitsandvegetables or other things.

Let's control our diabetes by finding out what foods make our blood glucose levels go up instead of listening to idiotic fad mantras.

We're smarter than fruitsandvegetables, right?


  1. Salad bars are my salvation when it comes to fruit. Instead of buying a pound of strawberries, or a whole honeydew, I can buy just as much as I can safely eat before the rest goes bad. A sliced strawberry is just as satisfying as a bowl of strawberries if you don't have any other option!

  2. Robin, I agree with you that some fruit is OK, especially berries. I put berries or 1 slice of apple or nectarine into some plain yogurt or kefir, which gives a fruit taste without all the carbs.

    And I agree that a little fruit is just as good as a lot. The first taste of everything is the best. And strawberries and raspberries are pretty benign.

  3. another mantra is that foods have to be colorful to be healthy. Yet:

    Apples, pears linked to reduced stroke risk
    September 16, 2011

    Researchers reported that while no such relationship was seen with green, orange/yellow, or red/purple groups, there was a significant 52% reduction in 10-year stroke incidence in participants in the highest quartile for white fruit and vegetable consumption vs those in the lowest quartile.

    and btw bananas are also considered to be white in this study.

  4. Lerner, I don't think the mantra is that fruits *have to be* colorful to be healthy, but that colorful fruits contain healthy antioxidants and other compounds.

    I take all these nutritional studies with a grain of salt because most of them are based on self-reports, they lump people into quartiles, and you have to ask what the reduction was in comparison with.

    Furthermore, one study doesn't mean much.

    However, it's interesting.

  5. Staying on the subject of mantras, one of the most popular these days is whole-food/real-food. Yet, if a person was very concerned about stroke (say they had an Fx), they might very well want to instead take some processed extract of pears/apples/bananas but with the sugar removed.

    Btw, I don't have diabetes but did see your post on Ned's blog about your mom. (I commented there also). I think there's something very important to be learned from that experience - whether glycation was blocked or reversed or is somehow not as relevant as I'd thought.

  6. Lerner, Health is the result of interaction between genes and environment. Some people have genes that let them live a long life despite unhealthy habits. Think of the centenarians who are lifelong smokers. Others live a healthy (according to some definition) life and die in their 50s.

    So it's really a crap game.

    It's possible that some lifestyle/food/supplement might help person A and harm person B. That's why I take those big studies that show that eating whortleberries reduces the risk of stroke/heart disease/cancer/etc. Because of the bell curve, the results apply only to those in the middle, not everyone.

    If I decided pears, apples, and bananas were especially healthy, I'd rather eat them whole than some kind of processed extract. We don't know exactly what made them show benefit in that study, and perhaps extracting substances might miss the important factors.

    One problem with nutritional studies is that people often substitute the study foods for unhealthy foods like boxed mac and cheese. Another is that many studies are sponsored by food consortiums, and they might ignore negative results and publicize positive results.

    Many years ago, people said we should eat margarine instead of butter and polyunsaturated oils instead of olive oil. I like butter and olive oil and kept eating those. Now they say butter and olive oil are the better choices.

    Now, I'm not 95 and might drop dead tomorrow (one parent lived to almost 98 but the other died at 66), but I think common sense and eating small amounts of real food that tastes good are our best options.

    It also helps to have long-lived parents. If they weren't, then one should focus on whatever it was that did them in.

    None of us get out of this life alive.