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‘Fruits are sweets’ – is that true?

‘Fruits are sweets’ – is that true?

There’s a difference of opinion about the statement ‘fruits are sweets’. Some insist it’s true, while others think it’s madness to suggest that fruits could be compared to sweets. But what is actually correct?

In order to explain, I want to start with the background to this statement.

Sugar is an umbrella term for several different types of sugar. The reason that some people come to the conclusion that fruits are equivalent to sweets is based, among other things, on the fact that fruits contain a type of sugar called fructose. Sweets contain what we think about when we talk about sugar in everyday speech – the white, granular sugar we use for baking, for example. The correct name for this is sucrose. Sucrose consists of glucose and fructose. Therefore, fruits should be equivalent to sweets, as both contain the same type of sugar! Or what…?

No, that isn’t quite the case. It’s correct that fruits contain a certain type of sugar, and that sweets also contain sugar, and that both generate energy in the form of calories. The difference between them is that fresh fruits contain fewer calories and a lot of nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, water and fibre that adds to the feeling of fullness. Sweets, on the other hand, mainly provide energy in the form of ‘empty calories’ and not much else in the way of nutrients or a feeling of satiety. So, sweets are more energy densethan fruits, while fruits are more nutrient dense than sweets.

However, there is one exception – dried fruits. In dried fruits, so much of the water has been removed that the concentration of sugar is a lot higher, and therefore they contain more energy in relation to volume. It’s also a lot easier to eat more dried fruits than fresh fruits, since the dried fruits are smaller. Even so, dried fruits can still be a good alternative to sweets. They may contain the same amount of energy as sweets, but you get fibre and nutrients as well – something you don’t get from sweets.

So is it OK to eat as much fruit as you want to?

Fruits are a great alternative if you are trying to have a more sustainable diet and reduce your consumption of sweets. This particularly applies to snacks, as fruits contain a large proportion of fibre, which provides a longer-lasting feeling of satiety. But it’s not a good idea to exaggerate the consumption in either direction, regardless of whether we are talking about fruits or sweets. Fruits also contain energy, even if it’s considerably smaller amounts than in, for example, sweets. A suitable amount is 1–3 fruits per day, and these are included in the 500 grams of fruits and vegetables that is the recommended daily intake for the average person. Common sense is key!

To illustrate the difference between fruits and sweets, and their content, I’m comparing chocolate with a number of different fruits below. To consume the energy content of a 100-gram chocolate bar (564 kcal) you need to eat approximately:

1.2 kg apples (552 kcal)

or

1.1 kg oranges (550 kcal)

or

6 bananas (570 kcal)

or

1.4 kg strawberries (574 kcal)

or

1.7 kg watermelon (574 kcal)

or

0.175 kg (175 grams) dried dates (562 kcal) or 0.2 kg (200 grams) raisins (571 kcal)

Consider how full you would feel from 100 grams of chocolate compared to 1.2 kilos of apples!

Having said this, I want to point out that there is room for both fruits and sweets in a balanced diet. You can eat fruits on a daily basis, as it’s not just a treat, but sweets are something you eat only on certain occasions – not every day. You can use the 90/10 rule. If 90% of the food you eat is nutritious food – and this includes fresh fruits – you can use 10% of what you eat more freely to celebrate something or to treat yourself, with a chocolate bar for example.

By Linn Håkansson

Updated February 8, 2022

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