Myron Hardesty, PA-C, M.H. is a licensed Physician Assistant and Medical Herbalist (M.H.) and has been practicing Clinical Herbalism through Weeds of Eden for over 15 years.
Are fruits an important part to the human diet?
Food diversification in general is a crucial part of all dietary recommendations. Fruits constitute a major food category so they are certainly important and valuable for human health. Phytochemicals and fruit-nutrients are of a particular variety that you can’t find in vegetables and protein. It’s this “rainbow of colors” that provide so much of the nutritional value in fruits.
How have fruits changed over the generations? Have they gotten sweeter or stayed the same? Why?
Modern fruits have little resemblance to their more Paleolithic forebears. Now we have all these hybridized versions of fruit. Take for example a modern apple: Granny Smith or Red Delicious or Golden Delicious. Comparatively, what our ancestors used to eat resembled more of a tiny crab-apple. This was a sweet treat and highly valuable as a caloric resource for communities that were more concerned with survival than flavor. Actually, probably more sour (phytonutrients) than sweet. Also, when you think about seasonal eating, we probably weren’t exposed to all that much sugar during the winters. From this aboriginal perspective, we are consuming the caloric equivalent of “sugar bombs.” However, putting things in a more modern perspective we have to admit that the greater issue is the amount of refined sugars in soda, candy, cereals and the like that are the major contributors to heart disease and diabetes. So, Yes, compared to those Fake Foods ( there were no Pepsi streams , there were no Skittles bushes or Crunchberries) apples and bananas don’t seem so bad. The modern world has a VERY perverted sense of “sweetness.” We just don’t realize it because we grew up with it.
What fruit has the most excess amount of natural sugar?
That’s a good question. I would say ounce for ounce…well, try intuitive eating: What tastes the most sugary? My guess is that a date has probably the highest sugar content. Mangoes are probably loaded with sugar. But health always depends on context. The most healthy fruits are the ones with highest phytonutrient to sugar ratio. Meaning that they have more nutrients and less sugar. We want to eat the rainbow so for example, blueberries have stilbene which is somewhat like resveratrol that accounts for the French paradox of wine. Both of these PhytoNutrients have been shown to be powerful sirtuin activators that combat diabetes. They are highly antioxidant and help regulate the inflammatory cascade. Nutrient density offsets caloric excess in these cases. White bananas less so. White-interiored apples (hybridized for sweetness and calories) less so. Sugars (generally speaking fructose+glucose= sucrose) are a fuel rather than a structural component like fats and proteins. We need calories in the forms of these sugars to generate the energy to carry out bodily functions and the reconstitution of our bodies. The phytonutrients complexed with these carbs and sugars ensure that that fuel doesn’t cause the mitochondrial engine to “run hot” or oxidize and break down, like it does with strictly added sugars. We are simply running on WAY too much fuel in the industrialized west.
The real problem in the modern food climate or environment is that we are way overloaded with sugars primarily coming from grains. And these grains are not colorful; they are the “browns.” They are carbs without phytonutrients. So what you’ve seen is a gravitation of otherwise nutrient dense fruits becoming more like the carbs that are found in grains that are instead calorically dense. Grains don’t have the phytonutrients to cool down the engines when all these excess calories get dumped into the system because of our addiction to sugars – even fruit sugars. The cells become insulin resistant and that leads to Type 2 Diabetes. And while insulin resistance is actually an attempt by the body to keep all of these excess sugars OUT of the cells where they damage the mitochondria the health effects of all this fuel still take a terrible toll (– and one capable of bankrupting the American Health Care system). It is like our cells are engorged with too much sugar and there is too much fuel and not enough phytonutrient coolant to cool it down.
What about eating fruits out of season?
I encourage people to eat fruits in season. We need those phytonutrients to cool us down. The earth will provide but our grocery stores lack seasonality. Normally we would eat according to the season because there is a natural intelligence to it. When it is hot, we need to eat foods that cool the body, and vice versa. That is why trees generate fruits in the summer and not the winter. Fresh Stop Markets are leading us in the direction of seasonal eating, and that is a great thing.