Knowing makes choosing easier

I remember it well. I was at a conference a few years ago. My colleague was diabetic and wanted to ensure his blood sugar stayed under control. He scoffed at the sugary donuts and carbohydrate-laden bagels available during the breaks. Trying to be helpful, I said, "They do have bananas." His response was — "I might as well eat the donut."

I was initially perplexed — but now I get it.

But first, a few words about sugar. One definition is: sugar is "an edible crystalline carbohydrate "… with a sweet flavor ("

It shows up in all kinds of processed foods, not just cookies, cakes and candy. Something as innocent-seeming as a can of tomato soup contains sugar. Who would think? If you're managing a chronic illness like diabetes or just trying to address a slowly inflating waistline, this is information worth knowing.

Fruits have naturally occurring sugar, i.e. fructose (fruit sugar). But sugar has other forms. If you want to manage sugar intake, read nutritional labels on processed foods. Look for words on the nutritional label that end in "-ose," such as sucrose, dextrose and lactose, because that tells you sugar is present. The higher the "-ose" word appears on the ingredient list, the more likely there's a lot of it.

Keep all that in mind as we proceed. I want to focus on fruits because they are excellent food choices, overall. But different fruits offer different nutritional possibilities — and have different caloric counts. Bananas (and figs) are at the very high end of the fruit-sugar continuum. At the low end are lemons and limes (not terribly surprising), raspberries, blackberries and cranberries. And, as you might suspect — rhubarb.

Oranges are fairly high in sugar; tangerines are even higher. Sometimes the caloric differences are not huge — but sometimes they are. Let's compare. A large banana has about 140 calories. A cup of raspberries has about 60 calories (If you want to know more about healthier-choice eating, try

The amount of fruits, vegetables — and foods in general — you need each day is determined by age, gender and activity level. Check out to learn more.

Once you have a grasp of caloric differences in various fruits, you might find it easier to make a healthy-for-you selection. Personal preference, taste and availability play a role, of course. The really good news is that with fruits your choices will provide dietary color, vitamins, minerals and fiber, which helps food move through your system — increasingly more important as we age.

On any given day each of us has the opportunity (and obligation) to choose what we want to eat. As we age those choices become even more important. Let's say you are hungry for something sweet and you know fruit would be a good option. Two cups of strawberries has 100 calories. Four cups of rhubarb (no sugar added) has about 25 calories (add a teaspoon or so of sugar to that rhubarb and you still have half the calories of an equivalent amount of strawberries). Expand your considerations perhaps? Raisins (a quarter cup) have 110 calories, while a full cup of cantaloupe chunks has about out 50 calories.

By the way, a five-ounce bagel (all by itself without anything creamy or sticky smeared on top) has more than 400 calories. Just thought I would mention that.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.

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