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Sugar Free Farm's resident dietitian reveals why the contestants had to cut fruit out of their sugar-free diet, and whether you should too.
Alyssa Braithwaite

15 Mar 2017 - 10:05 AM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2017 - 10:05 AM

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?

For many of us, fruit is the perfect snack food - quick, convenient, packed full of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and able to deliver a sweet hit during that mid-afternoon lull.

So why, when a group of celebrities with terrible eating habits checked into Sugar Free Farm (Thursdays at 8.35pm on SBS - find out more here), did they have to give up fruit as part of their sugar-free diet?

The show's resident nutritionist, registered dietitian Hala El-Shafie, tells SBS it's all about resetting the contestants sugar-loving tastebuds.

"The only reason I took fruit out of their diet was to reset their taste buds and get them to appreciate the natural sweetness in foods," El-Shafie says.

"All of them were having copious amounts of processed foods and refined sugars, so their tastebuds really were not working and activated in the way they should.

"Our tastebuds and our palate are very sensitive to both salt and sugar - the more you have, the more you want. But, the reverse is also true - the less you have of it the less you actually want and crave it. So at the end of that process when they did have fruit they could actually taste the sweetness of the fruit."

When the contestants were finally given some strawberries to try near the end of their stay on Sugar Free Farm, they were blown away by the flavour.

"That's better than a chocolate ripple," says showbiz reporter Alison Hammond. "Feels great, it's satiating. It's just beautiful."

For the purposes of resetting your tastebuds and curing your sugar cravings, cutting out fruit for a short period is effective. And there is no doubt that it helps make for a more extreme experience for the contestants - who are, after all, on a television show.

But El-Shafie says in reality, giving up fruit is not something she would recommend for clients wanting to improve their diet.

"You don't have to cut out fruit - you get fibre, vitamins and minerals in fruit, so that's not something I would encourage people to do," says El-Shafie, who runs Nutrition Rocks, an organisation which offers people easy and practical advice on living a healthier lifestyle.

"The fibre in whole fruits aids digestion and helps to slow down the absorption of sugar, so adding fruit is a healthy way of giving your food a sweet kick."

Australian dietician Gabrielle Maston agrees: "I don't think people should be giving up fruit, because there's a lot of evidence to suggest that people who eat fruit and vegetables tend to be healthier overall and have lower risk of disease."

Is some fruit better than others?

There has been a lot of buzz recently about going sugar free. While Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar program advocates eating 1-2 small pieces of fruit a day, it does also break down fruit into 'eat most', 'eat less' and 'eat sparingly' categories, based on their fructose content.

Their 'Fruit Pyramid' graphic lists kiwi fruit, blueberries, strawberries, passionfruit and lemons among the 'eat most' fruit; mandarins, plums, peaches, oranges, green apples, pears and rockmelon in the 'eat less' category, and grapes, cherries, mangoes, bananas, pineapple, watermelon, figs, sultanas, prunes and dates under the 'eat sparingly' heading.  

El-Shafie says she doesn't believe it is helpful to talk about some fruit as being better than others, as they all help to make up a balanced diet.

"I think we should be enjoying an array of all types of fruit and vegetables," El-Shafie says.

"Of course, if you're eating mango that is super sweet, but you're also getting a lot of nutrition as well.

"So it's really about balance, and all of the food groups, which this series does focus on."

For example, as nutritionist Fiona Hunter tells The Times, grapes are high in fructose, but they also contain lots of phytochemicals including flavoinoids, resveratrol, quercetin and ellagic acid which some studies suggest can help protect cancer and heart disease.

"Cutting fruit out of your diet because you are worried about sugar is like throwing out the baby with the bath water," Hunter says.

What about dried fruit?

One area where they agree in choosing fresh fruit over dried fruit.

Dried fruit has the water removed, concentrating the sugars. As I Quit Sugar explains, half a cup of fresh cranberries contains 2g of sugar. Half a cup of dried cranberries contains 37g, or 9 teaspoons, of sugar. Just one date is over 60 per cent sugar.

"Dried fruit is obviously concentrated, so it has a very high sugar content," El-Shafie says.

"So that's something we do need to look at, and it shouldn't be a free for all - particularly with someone who has diabetes. If you're having raisins or dates, yes they're very nutrient dense. They are high in sugar as well but they can serve a purpose for a sugar hit.

"But if you have some dried fruit sprinkled on breakfast cereal or as part of a balanced diet, that's absolutely fine."

Any dietary information in this article does not constitute medical advice and readers should consult their healthcare providers before attempting any extreme lifestyle changes. 

Sugar Free Farm Season 2 airs Thursdays at 8.35pm. Discover more about what happens in season 2 here. View our TV Guide to find out when episodes are on air or catch up on missed episodes at SBS On Demand.

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