Month: May 2011

Wild and Ancient Fruit: Is it Really Small, Bitter, and Low in Sugar?

Given the recent blog-o-drama about carbs in the human diet (for instance, here and here), this seems like a fine time to blog about a sweet subject dear to my heart: fruit! More specifically, I want to take a closer look at some common beliefs about wild fruit, and how it differs from the store-bought stuff most of us have access to.

For those looking at evolution for clues about the optimal human diet, fruit is often regarded with suspicion. On one hand, few foods are “intended” for consumption in the way fruit is: In a lovely act of symbiosis, plants offer nourishment to the animal kingdom in trade for seed dispersal. But on the other hand—the one purpled with blackberry stains—we humans are famous for playing Food God, turning once-healthy things into gross abominations. For hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of years, we’ve been selectively breeding certain fruits to become bigger, prettier, easier to eat, and easier to transport thousands of miles away from their mothering trees. As a result, the waxed apples and seedless watermelons lining store aisles are a far cry from their wild ancestors.

And for the health minded, this is a predicament. How can we reconcile this year-round supply of modern fruit with the wild stuff we encountered in the past?

Especially in the paleo/ancestral diet communities, statements like these tend to be widely accepted in a common sense, no-reference-needed sort of way:

  • “Fruits in the Paleolithic would have been tart and smaller, and you may want to limit modern fruit because of this.” (From here)
  • “The problem is that the fruits our paleo ancestors ate no longer exist. While they had mostly bitter fruit, we’ve bred ours over the past 200 years to be extremely sweet and sugary. It’s thus become something akin to candy plus a mediocre multivitamin.” (From here)
  • “Bear in mind that the fruits that paleolithic man ate, while still being, say, apples, bore almost no resemblance to today’s apples. Modern fruit is bred to be HUGE and sweet. Most fruits are packed with a particularly bad sugar, fructose…”(From here)
  • “Fruits have been selectively bread to contain massive amounts of sugar compared to how they used to be. Eating a bunch of tropical fruit is not in the spirit of Paleo.” (From here)

At first glance, that all seems logical enough. Virtually all the food we have available today—from plant and animal kingdoms alike—has been selectively bred for both flavor and ease of eating, and fruit is certainly no exception. It seems reasonable to conclude that, apart from the rare batch of honey or seasonal berry bushes popping up outside, humans didn’t get much exposure to sugar during our evolution, and modern fruits are completely unlike anything we encountered in the past.

But are these assumptions truly accurate? Let’s take a look at the facts. (more…)