Puzzler of the Day

Dr. James Carlson’s daughter’s teacher recently posed a brain teaser:

Ok, so I’m eating lunch with my daughter yesterday when she shares with me that she had a nutritional quiz last week….

The question asked “Pick the healthiest snack from the foods listed below:”

  1. apple
  2. potato chips
  3. cookie
  4. ice cream

Wow, this is an awfully tough question for high school students! No doubt it would baffle most nutritionists, but I’ll give it a shot. (Fools rush in, etc.)

The worst of these snacks is surely the cookie. Wheat is the single most toxic food in everyday diets, most cookies have excessive sugar, and many commercial cookies are made with omega-6-rich vegetable oils – a triple dose of toxins.  Of course, almost any recipe can be repaired. Some people, but not us, have baked Paleo cookies. Paleo-Zone’s recipe has a lot of fructose and omega-6 fats – not recommended.  Andrew’s Paleo Cookies and Paleo Mama’s Almost-Oatmeal Raisin Cookies look better. But, since cookies are for kids and kids love chocolate chip cookies, we’ll go with Josephine’s recipe from Nutty Kitchen.

The healthfulness of potato chips is primarily determined by the oil used in their preparation.  McDonald’s French fries used to be healthy when they were made with beef tallow; now that they are made with vegetable oil, not so much. Since vegetable oils are so prevalent, I would avoid any potato chips that aren’t home-made – especially ones that have sat on a shelf. If there’s anything worse than omega-6 fats, it’s rancid omega-6 fats. Condition of the potatoes is also important: potatoes develop toxins after exposure to light or heat, or if the peel is broken. This can be avoided by using sweet potatoes, or by keeping potatoes in cool, dark conditions throughout their life and discarding any that have changed color. Home-made chips or fries, made from thick-sliced sweet potatoes, with butter or beef tallow as the fat, are quite healthy. Salt on the chips is nothing to be alarmed about, indeed a little salt is essential for health.

Apples are, with pears, perhaps the least healthy of fruits due to their high fructose content. A little fructose is tolerable on a low-carb diet, especially after a period of fasting, but on a high-carb diet is a pretty effective poison. The quick browning of apple slices exposed to air is a clue to their toxicity. Berries, which have significantly less fructose, are safer, healthier, and to my palate tastier. Especially if combined with heavy cream.

Ice cream can be among the healthiest of desserts. Again, homemade is best: commercial ice creams often include skim milk, which adds undesirable dairy proteins, and excessive sugar. We make ice cream with 6 egg yolks, a pint of heavy cream, and flavorings to taste.  We usually flavor with berries, nuts, vanilla extract, and sometimes cocoa powder, with a bit of sugar. As long as the sugar content is low, and you aren’t sensitive to the dairy proteins in the cream, this is a very healthy dessert. Some dark chocolate doesn’t hurt its healthfulness. Tapioca can be mixed in to provide fructose-free carbs and “resistant starch” fiber.

So, what’s the healthiest snack?  In our home, probably the ice cream, thanks to the nutritious egg yolks, the fat-rich macronutrient ratio, and the berries and nuts. Sweet potato chips would be second, and the apple third.

Of course, if the apple had a worm in it, that might put it over the top.  If it was a nutritious worm!

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  4. Fruits are toxic??

    Wow, I didn’t realize I had stumbled upon a CoastToCoastAm affiliate!!

    Ok, I’ll bite, how can fructose be bad? And why would there be a distinction between fructose, and other sugars (sucrose/glucose)?

    Sorry, high fructose corn syrup is the same as cane sugar or honey. I agree that high amounts of sugar in general is unhealthy, but where is the data to single out fructose as toxic?

  5. Hi snoop,

    Fructose is toxic … fruits have some redeeming value, so they are part of our diet, but we are not in the “30 bananas a day” group.

    Fructose is toxic because it is highly reactive, uncontrollably so, with other biological molecules (proteins and fats).

    Glucose is less reactive and is extensively utilized by the body in a controlled way (as long as it doesn’t become too abundant). So glucose is healthy (within limits), but fructose is not.

    You might find this Youtube video by Dr. Robert Lustig a good starting point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM/.

    Best, Paul

  6. What do you think is an appropriate daily amount of fructose?

    I notice you recommend berries with cream instead of an apple. Nutritiondata says a medium apple has about 10g fructose, whereas a similar amount of blueberries (~150g) has about 7g fructose, blackberries 3.5g fructose, and strawberries 4g fructose.

    Perhaps around 5g then?

    I have watched Lustig’s video but if I recall he did not discuss what amount constitutes “reasonable intake”.

  7. Hi Brandon,

    I don’t have a specific target for fructose, but less is better. My own diet has a daily banana, often some berries, sometimes a bit of sugar in ice cream, and that’s about it — probably about 30-40 calories (8-10 g) fructose on a typical day.

    Fructose should be a small fraction of the 400 carb calories per day we recommend. So, 50 calories / 12 g would probably be a good limit. In the book we suggest limiting fruit & berries to 1/2 lb per day, which would provide around 50 calories fructose.

    We don’t exclude apples from the diet, we just think that as fruits go they’re relatively high in toxins and relatively low in nutrients, so we’d rather eat bananas, peaches, berries, papaya, melon, plums, just to name a few.

  8. Very interesting video..

    I’m a little suspicious though, because the message is that without fiber, fructose is the villain of weight gain.. and that an “unlimited” amount of sucrose/glucose can be stored in the liver.

    Beets are high in sucrose, so if I drink nothing but Beet Juice, it’ll be ok since its not the evil fructose?!

    The other thing that troubles me, is that trying to do research on fructose, it seems all roads lead back to this video! It seems no one has done any homework except to point back to this lecture.

    If fructose was so radically different, and dangerous, there should be much more data on the subject than the guy on youtube, no?

    • Hi snoop,

      Sucrose is half glucose half fructose, so you need to avoid sucrose in order to avoid fructose. Sucrose is digested to elemental sugars and it is the glucose and fructose that are absorbed in the small intestine.

      The liver cannot hold unlimited amounts of glucose. Very little in fact. It can hold 70-100 g glycogen, made from 300-400 calories glucose, but that reservoir is rarely empty so 100-200 calories of available storage may be more typical.

      Beets are basically like fruits and berries in fructose content — eat them in moderation.

      If you want real research, go to Pubmed and search on “fructose.” 30,898 hits!

  9. I like apples. The season, which lasts about two to three months, for them in the Bay Area/Northern California has started, and the growers who sell at the farmers market have several varieties of the fruit–not just the Red Delicious (as a matter of fact, not one sells Red Delicious). However, I do not like sweet apples, such as Fujis. I like apples that are tart, very tart, or tart and spicy. I assume that these tart apples are very low in sugar. Do you agree? Therefore, according to your suggestion to avoid high-fructose fruit, these apples fit the bill, no? Also, these tart apples do not turn brown after you cut them.

    I thank you in advance for your response.

  10. Dear Rhonda,

    Yes, if the apples don’t taste sweet and don’t brown when cut, they must be low in fructose.

    Apples like many fruits have been bred for sweetness and any of the ancestral fruit varieties are likely to be low in fructose.

    Enjoy your apples!

    Best, Paul

  11. I gave up dairy several years ago, so for me ice cream is a NO. I did it, along with other diet changes to avoid pills for high blood pressure for life. No more headaches, blocked nose and skin problems. And blood pressure back to normal.
    But I enjoy a banana and an apple a day, I hope it is not so much. I prefer boiled potatoes. So for me an apple. How come the fruits suddenly become toxic. Ok, modern fruits are different but fruits were eaten for millions of years by humans. I do not believe it is modern food.

  12. A couple interesting posts where even Dr. Lustig responds!



    Bottom line it seems Dr. Lustig’s data is selective at best, and that common sense was right along: over consuming sugar in general is not healthy, but there’s nothing particularly evil about fructose.

  13. Hi snoop,

    Yes, very interesting debate. Certainly the toxicity of fructose is context-dependent, like alcohol it doesn’t go well with polyunsaturated fats. I still don’t see evidence of benefits though, so there’s no good reason to eat sugar.

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  15. I would vote for apple.

    1) It doesn’t involve cooking as with cheeps. While you can probably control oil type, potato type, dish type etc… most of those are still dependant on human factors (manufacturer honesty and tests [unless you run your own lab and have loads of money for experiments]).

    2) Similar could be said for ice cream. While dairy is usually beneficial [my favorite food], that depends on bunch of human factors – type of milk, type of animal treatment, manufacturing artifacts etc… You could make your own milk to limit those factors if you have your own cow or preferably goat but not many people do that

    3) Cookie is obvious intruder.

    4) Apple contains lot of fructose. Alpha says its around 17g of fructose per apple and around 6g of glucose. Why do I think single apple is better then above ? There are several things – its now recognized that GLUT5 transporters have higher biological role then previously thought – for instance, skeletal muscles expose it and insulin upregulates it (this means that for active people it can only be benefit, especially immediately after activity). Second, apples have bioflavonoids wich have health promoting aspects – rutin, quecertin, etc… Additionally , those block GLUT4 transporter so less glucose is available for us, and more for microbiota which might be good. Fiber is obvious potential benefit [experience of several close friends on LC diet shows me that single apple a day makes constipation go away]. Finally, its not mess-up in fabric and many people have their own tree [me included] so it can be controlled for pesticides, soil type, etc… Eating bunch of apples doesn’t seem like a good idea tho, but maybe thats the reason for ‘apple a day’ and not ‘bag of apples a day’.

    Quercetin glucosides inhibit glucose uptake into brush-bordermembrane vesicles of porcine jejunum

    Insulin regulates the expression of the GLUT5 transporter in L6 skeletal muscle cells.

    Regulation of the fructose transporter GLUT5 in health and disease.

    Fructose transport and metabolism in adipose tissue of Zucker rats: diminished GLUT5 activity during obesity and insulin resistance.

    Inhibition of the intestinal glucose transporter GLUT2
    by ?avonoids

    Flavonoid inhibition of SVCT1 and GLUT2, intestinal transporters for vitamin C and glucose

  16. That said, I don’t like fruits much – I hardly eat them usually kiwi, banana or apple, couple a times per week. Its just reasonable statement to conclude that small amounts, mostly in season, are beneficial for health.

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