Think before you bite
November 6, 2011
Lollies, soft drink, sweet biscuits, yoghurt, fresh and dried fruit and all fruit juice should be restricted. Photo: Neil Newitt
AN APPLE a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, yet a small but passionate group of medics believes fresh fruit is in part to blame for the extra kilos some of us are carrying.
It is a controversial concept that riles nutritionists but Rod Tayler's theory that restricting fresh fruit in the diet can result in weight loss has been borne out by the experiences of participants in a trial he is running at the Epworth Hospital in Melbourne.
Dr Tayler believes the biggest driver behind the rapid rise in the nation's girth is sugar, not fat. Fruit, he says, is full of it - a 150 gram apple contains four teaspoons of sugar.
He acknowledges that regular consumption is fine for anyone without a weight problem, but believes fruit needs to be cut out to lose kilos, along with alcohol and refined carbohydrates.
''There is nothing of nutritional value in fruit that you do not get from vegetables,'' he said.
Dr Tayler's quest was spurred by a dramatic rise in the number of overweight people presenting for surgery in the past 10 years. Although he has no formal training in nutrition, he started researching published scientific articles about obesity after reading the former lawyer David Gillespie's book Sweet Poison. Gillespie's book tells how he lost 40 kilograms after cutting out sugar.
Dr Tayler, an anaesthetist, initiated the Epworth Sweet Study last December and now has more than 100 participants, mostly health employees.
His unorthodox ideas about fruit have support from Ken Sikaris, the director of chemical pathology at Melbourne Pathology, who has a particular interest in blood sugar levels in the overweight and obese.
Dr Sikaris said the population falsely believed fruit was a ''safe haven''. Australian dietary guidelines recommend two pieces of fresh fruit a day.
''Some people mistakenly think that if two is good then four is better, but that is just not the case,'' he said.
Fruit was traditionally small and seasonal and used to fatten people and animals during summer for the winter ahead.
''But we never have a winter any more, fruit is refrigerated and flown in from all over the world so we can have it all year round,'' he said.
However, the nutritionist Rosemary Stanton argues there is no evidence people need to cut down on fruit, and points out that Dr Tayler's sweet study has not been published in a medical journal.
''I think what they are doing is mixing up fruit and fruit juice,'' Dr Stanton said. ''It's pretty hard to consume five apples at once but it's easy to consume them as a glass of fruit juice, and fruit juice is not much different to soft drink.''
Dr Stanton said it was a struggle to get most people to eat the recommended two pieces of fruit a day.
''You can have too much of a good thing but most people don't and the danger when you give out a message that fruit is somehow bad is that the people who are eating none or one piece will eat less and instead will eat chips and biscuits and things like that,'' she said.
She suggested participants in Dr Tayler's study were more likely to have lost weight because they reduced their kilojoule intake from sources such as fruit juice, alcohol and refined carbohydrates rather than fresh fruit.
But one of the study participants, Mary McPherson, 60, is convinced of its merits, having lost 10 kilograms gradually over six to eight months. She reduced her fruit consumption from four or five pieces a day to two pieces - ''some berries and a banana, I can't go without a banana a day'' - and instead filled up on dry roasted almonds. Occasional sweet cravings were satisfied with a single piece of dark chocolate.
Ms McPherson also followed Dr Tayler's advice to reduce refined carbohydrates such as white rice, pasta and potatoes, replacing them with brown rice and sweet potatoes - though refused to give up her two glasses of wine with dinner.
''The surprise was just how big a role sugar played in increasing my weight. I don't think people understand that. I didn't and I've been working [as a nurse] for a long time.''