Today’s post is an illustration of three important concepts.
1. Science can be confusing.
2. Numbers don’t always tell the truth.
3. Context matters.
Last week, we saw an article on the Yahoo! contributor network that seemed – upon reading the first paragraph, at least – right up our alley. However, upon probing deeper into the logic (and the numbers), the conclusion proved so ludicrous, we thought maybe we’d accidentally huffed some paint.
Or, at the very least, the author had.
Fruit = Nature’s Soda, Dontcha Know
Here is an excerpt from the article, written by a PhD(!) and scientist(!!) from Tufts University(!!!). (Read the full article here.)
“Consumption of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is not good for health. But, I’d like to add a bit of perspective: the main sugar found in fruit is fructose! …
One 20 oz. soda contains 240 calories and 65 grams of sugar. All of this sugar comes from HFCS, which is 55% fructose. To determine the amount of fructose in soda, we multiply 65 g by 0.55, to obtain 35.75 grams of fructose.
How much fructose is contained within fruit? When normalized to the same amount of calories as a 20 oz. soda, bananas contain 16.4 g of fructose; strawberries, 20.1 g; cherries, 20.8 g; blueberries, 21.2 g; oranges (navels), 21.6 g; peaches, 24.0 g; raisins, 24.0 g; pears 27.4 g; grapes, 28.6 g; apples, 32.0 g…
The amount of fructose found in fruit isn’t too far away from the amount found in calorie-matched soda.”
Now, if Melissa’s Mom read this article (and she probably did, because she considers Yahoo! a pretty respectable source of information), she’d probably think, “I had no idea that fruit contained as much fructose as soda.” And she’d conclude one of two things: (a) fruit is not as healthy as I thought it was, or (b) soda isn’t as unhealthy as I thought it was. And then Melissa’s Mom would either stop eating fruit because of all the sugar, or go back to drinking Pepsi, because drinking HFCS is practically the same as eating an apple.
This makes us mad. Because it’s stuff like this that makes all of our Moms so confused about what to eat. And it’s a shame when credible PhD scientists don’t present their information in a way that’s useful, practical and relevant for our Moms. (And our Dads. And our co-workers, and best friends, and grandparents.)
Let’s Do the Math
Let’s dig a little deeper into the logic our PhD used to arrive at his conclusions that “fruit isn’t that far off from soda.”
First, won’t debate the amount of fructose in a 20 oz. soda. Nutritiondata.com confirms that a 20 oz. Pepsi (Mom’s soda of choice) contains 68 grams of total sugar – close enough to the reported 65 grams for our purposes. The calculation as to of the amount of HFCS is also correct.
The wheels start to come off the bus in next paragraph. Specifically, in this sentence: “When normalized to the same amount of calories as a 20 oz. soda…” Here’s where context matters.
A 20 oz. soda is a perfectly reasonable single serving size for most people. It’s smaller than the “medium” sized soft drink at McDonalds, and 20 oz. bottles of Pepsi are sold by the case at big box warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco. Our point is, it’s not at all unusual for someone to drink an entire 20 oz. soda in one sitting.
When was the last time you saw someone eat FIVE BANANAS all at once?
They key to this hot, hot mess of a comparison is that the author “normalized” a person’s fruit intake to the same amount of calories (240) as a 20 oz. soda. We postulate that there is nothing normal about eating that much fruit.
You want math? We’ve got math. Here’s what your fruit consumption would look like if you “normalized” your eating habits to compete with a 20 oz. soda.
Bananas: 1 medium banana has 105 calories, and 7.1 grams of fructose. You’d have to eat 2-1/4 bananas to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat 5 bananas to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Strawberries: 1 cup of strawberries has 49 calories, and 4.1 grams of fructose. You’d have to eat almost 5 cups of strawberries to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat nearly 9 cups of strawberries to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Cherries: 1 cherry has 5 calories, and 0.4 grams of fructose. You would have to eat 48 cherries to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat 89 cherries to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Apples: 1 medium apple has 95 calories, and 12.6 grams of fructose. You would have to eat 2-1/2 apples to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat almost 3 apples to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Must we continue? The original argument states that when you “normalize” the data so you’re comparing apples to apples (pun intended), you’re getting just a smidge more fructose from your 20 oz. soda as you are from your fruit. But in this case, the data has been, how do you say… massaged. And numbers don’t always tell the truth if you remove reasonable context. Which is why our Moms can be so easily confused, and why myths like “High fructose corn syrup is a healthy, all-natural choice” persist.
Can eating too much fruit contribute to metabolic issues? Yes, especially if you’re already insulin resistant, metabolically deranged and/or obese. But the overall comparison between fruit and soda falls down on two points. First, as demonstrated above, you’d have to eat an awful lot of fruit to measure up to the 20 oz. soda mentioned in this comparison. Second, and more importantly, fruit isn’t just fructose. It’s also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber – things that make you healthier. You can’t say the same for soda, which contain fructose + absolutely nothing that contributes to your health. And we assure you, eating a few servings of fruit a day in the context of an otherwise healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle (as we advocate) isn’t going to create metabolic dysfunction in anyone.
So go ahead and have an apple a day. Or a cup of strawberries. Or a banana. As long as you’re not washing it down with a 20 oz. Pepsi, it’s 100.0% good. (And we’ve got the numbers to back that up.)
All figures calculated from www.nutritiondata.com. Serving sizes as stated, fructose calculation = (total sucrose/2) + total fructose.