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Is Fruit Really Unconditionally Better Than Desserts? (the answer may surprise you)

I commonly read that sugar in products such as ice cream and cookies is unhealthy, and those with a craving for sweets should redirect their urges to fruits which are healthier and more natural.

But why are fruits healthier? A good place to start is this article, where a food scientist/R.D. (registered dietitian) talks about the health advantages of fruit over candy and desserts. I’ll quote a few of the key points here but I recommend you read the entire article for proper context.

  • “fruit offers good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants and water, while candy and desserts are nutritionally void”
  • “Fruit also tends to have less sugar by volume.”
  • “whole fruit has a lot of fiber”

Let’s look at each of these points in turn with actual fruit and dessert examples.

First, no one will deny that fruit has vitamins, antioxidants, water, and a whole bunch of other things we haven’t even identified yet. Since this stuff is natural, it seems logical that much of it is good for the body, and I’m sure there are studies out there that show how certain fruits have various beneficial effects.

But stating candy and desserts are “nutritionally void” is an extreme exaggeration that is clearly not true for all products. Sure, many of the popular candy products (think ‘Halloween candy’) and desserts contain a good portion of lab-made chemicals and heavily processed ingredients. But is there any candies or desserts with any nutritional value?

Thanks to the health movement which has gained popularly in the last few years, we now see entire grocery stores dedicated to healthy, natural food. In my area there is Whole Foods Market, Mother Earth Natural Foods, and many smaller ones. With this there is are loads of healthier products flooding the markets, those with organic, natural ingredients, and an absence of things like artificial colors and flavors. I would say at least half of the products I’ve reviewed in this blog I would consider healthy, if not more.

To give one recent example of a recently reviewed healthy product, take So Delicious’s coconut milk mint chip frozen dessert. It contains several ingredients which are known to have good amounts of minerals and vitamins such as coconut (oil and cream), cocoa, and spearmint. It also contains water, which was another of the items mentioned in the article. This is just one example which clearly has many vitamins and nutrients, and until someone shows me a clinical study comparing specific deserts and fruits showing the actual long-term effects of each, I am not convinced fruits have more vitamins and minerals in all cases.

I mentioned one desert product, but there are many like this including those made with cashews, nuts, almonds, soy, rice, and other things thought to be nutritionally rich.

The next point is whether fruit has less sugar by volume. I will first list the sugar per weight for a few fruits based on the figures from sugarstacks.com.

  • Grapes: 16%
  • Cantaloupe: 8%
  • Navel Orange: 9%
  • Apple slices: 10%
  • Banana: 12%
  • Watermelon: 13%
  • Average: 11.3%

Next I’ll show the values for a few ice cream/frozen desserts.

  • Talenti Argentine Caramel: 33%
  • Talenti Caribbean Coconut: 25%
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Chocolate: 14%
  • So Delicious No Sugar Added Mint Chip: 1%
  • Laloos Vanilla Snowflake: 22%
  • Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan: 20%
  • Average: 19.1%

Overall there is about 70% more sugar in these products, which is consistent with the article’s claim that desserts have more sugar than fruits. Keep in mind, this is just a small sample of frozen desserts, and does not include many other sweet products that have significantly more (or less) sugar levels. Although I only included one product with no sugar added, there are many others of this type, some using sweeteners which may have negative effects on the body (though I would say those are not well known yet).

There are even some cases where fruits have more sugar than a frozen dessert, such as grapes (16%) compared to So Delicious’s chocolate frozen dessert (14%). This product utilizes agave as its main sweetener, which some say is healthier than white sugar. There are others which say simply say ‘sugar is sugar’ which would also mean the sugar from fruits and desserts is the same in terms of how the body digests is.

I cannot dispute the article’s final point that whole fruit has alot of fiber. However, taking the mint chip frozen dessert I discussed above as an example, it has 6 grams of sugar in 85 grams, which gives around 7% fiber of total weight. Much of this fiber comes from chicory root extract.

Here is the fiber per total weight ratios of a few common fruits:

  • Apple: 2.4%
  • Oranges: 2%
  • Raspberries: 7%
  • Peaches: 1.5%
  • Pears: 3.1%
  • Average:3.2%

In this case we can see a dessert has over twice the fiber as several fruits, a few of these were listed as “high fiber fruits”.

Just from this quick analysis, it seems obvious to me that fruits do not have an unconditional win in the fight against desserts and candies. By no means am I saying fruits are not worth eating, since studies (plus common sense) say that eating a variety of fruits is best. But if you are careful about which desserts you choose, focusing on those with natural, nutritious ingredients, I think you can still maintain a healthy diet. It make take a little time to get used to these “healthier” desserts after a lifetime of eating the unhealthy, popular ones, but its worth it since then you can eat (nearly) guilt free.

My biggest concern about desserts is the high fat and calorie content, though this completely depends on how much you eat. From a weight gaining perspective, its clearly less healthy to eat a gallon of ice cream a day versus a banana. But a quarter-pint (single serving) of most ice creams a day shouldn’t cause significant weight gain.

Don’t let an “expert” tell you that you shouldn’t eat desserts. I’m not going to completely stop eating sweets and go all fruit until there is sufficient clinical evidence showing that seemingly healthy products line coconut milk frozen desserts are actually harmful in some way.

Do your own research and enjoy the sweetness that desserts bring to your life!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/fruit-sugar-versus-white-sugar_n_3497795.html

http://www.sugarstacks.com/fruits.htm

http://www.fitsugar.com/Fiber-Fruits-209893

http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-dietary-fiber.php

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You pick the (sweet) food. I report on it.

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Now that I’ve done a series of reports on various sweets I’m familiar with, I think its time to ask the community what products they want reviewed.

Curious about that new ice cream thats a little pricey? Want to know how good a certain cookie is nutritionally? Or looking for how a certain brownie stacks up against its competitors?

Just leave a comment here with the product name. Assuming I can acquire it somewhere locally, I’ll do my best to report on all responses I get, including information about flavor, nutrition, price, and in some cases I’ll contact the producer for more information on an ingredient or the like. Or if you don’t have a specific product name, but are looking for something (“Whats the best XXX you recommend?”) let me know as well.

Looking forward to hearing from everyone!

Somersaults Dutch Cocoa (crunchy nuggets baked with sunflower seeds & toasted grains)

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Introduction

This time we’ll focus on a healthy snack food which I recently discovered. Unlike many of the others I’ve reported on so far, it stands pretty well nutritionally on its own. Being in cookie form makes it easy nibble in the middle of work, in bed, or anytime the munchies strike.

Another thing I like about this product is the manufacturer is focused exclusively on making sunflower seed based snacks, and only has five products to date.

Flavor

As soon as I pulled one of these cookies from the pack with my thumb and pointer finger, I was surprised by it’s tiny size and odd appearance – the manufacturer clearly favors substance over style. Popping it into my mouth, it’s firmness was another surprise, not quite tough enough to achieve ‘rock’ status, but definitely harder than I expected. However after a few bite-sized chunks, I quickly got used to the crunchy texture and began enjoying the process of breaking each cookie into smaller and smaller fragments in my mouth. This is another product where the texture takes importance over the flavor.

The flavor itself is quite mild, a mixture of chocolate and nuttiness well blended together, accompanied by a light sweetness. I wouldn’t say there is much of a sunflower seed taste, though as far as I remember sunflower seeds are more about the texture of the seed and saltiness than any particular taste that stands out.

Ingredients / Nutrition

One serving of 14 pieces (30 g, or roughly 1/6th of a 6 ounce pack) contains 140 calories which is reasonable given how filling these little nuggets are. Sugar is also on the low side, with only 4 grams per serving. This is around half that in Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut butter, which is already low in sugar. Sodium is also low at 140 mg (6% DV), and there is a good amount of fiber – 3 grams which translates to 12% of daily recommended value. There is a modest amount of protein as well, with 6 grams per serving.

Sunflower seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients including amino acids, Vitamin E (10% DV), and cholesterol lowering phytosterols. They also are top rank in the nuts & seeds category, based on Whole Food’s ANDI score, which measures nutrient density (“Aggregate Nutrient Density Index”). In case you’re curious, sesame seeds are #2 which coincidentally are also present in these cookies.

There are 13 ingredients, with the top five as follows: sunflower seeds, wheat flour, sugar, organic evaporated cane juice, and cocoa powder. A key point here is that sunflower seeds are #1 on the list – these are not something thrown in just to add a appearance of healthiness, they are the most prevalent ingredient. Cocoa as the fifth ingredient is also a nice bonus.

My only major gripe is the presence of “natural flavors” in the ingredient list (as #11, but still). As mentioned in other reports, I am uncomfortable with this since I don’t know exactly what I am eating, only that it’s “natural”. It could be made from tree bark for all I know. I’ve sent a request to Somersaults Snack Company for more information about what “natural flavors” contains, will update this post when I receive a response. This ingredient does contain the text “(milk)” next to it, but It’s not clear if that means only milk is included or if milk is just one of the things used.

Update: I received a response from Somersaults regarding their natural flavors. I’ll excerpt part of their response, unedited:

The natural flavors in our Dutch Cocoa are: butter and brownie. So while there isn’t explicit butter or brownie ingredients inside the product, natural derivatives used to make these products can be found in Somersaults. 

Price and Availability

These are available directly from the producer’s website in .5 oz , 2 oz, or 6 oz bags. The current prices for these are very reasonable at $0.71, $1.70, and $3.59, respectively. You can also buy in bulk for a discount. Supporting direct sale in a variety of sizes like this is pretty impressive, and the first time I’ve seen this for a product. There is even an option on the site to sign up for recurring delivery and save an extra 10%!

I purchased my 6 ounce bag from Whole Foods Market for around the same price as above.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Ingredients/Nutrition: 8.5

Price: 8.0

Overall: 7.8

Summary

Dutch Cocoa Somersaults are a sunflower seed-based snack with a mild flavor and can fill you up pretty easily with their natural ingredients. Great for anytime you hunger for some nutrition but don’t have time for a proper meal.

References

http://www.somersaultsnackco.com/?event=enjoy.cocoa

http://shop.somersaultsnackco.com/Dutch-Cocoa/p/SOM-DCOCOA

http://www.somersaultsnackco.com/?event=enjoy.powerofseeds

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_seed#Nutritional_value

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/health-starts-here/resources-and-tools/top-ten-andi-scores#nuts-and-seeds