Q: What causes pain/discomfort
when eating sweet fruit like
Don Bennett replies:
Discomfort/pain from eating fruit can be caused by a number
of factors (and possibly by a combination of some of them; i.e. primary
and secondary causes)...
A possible reason for discomfort or pain after eating a mono-meal of sweet fruit has been shown to be a lack of sufficient chromium in the diet. Chromium is known to enhance the action of insulin, which is a hormone critical to the metabolism and storage of carbohydrate, fat, and protein in the body.
I have verified this chromium-blood sugar regulation connection a number of ways. I had this problem myself, often referred to as "melon-belly" (but more painful forms could be described as a "fruit attack"). Mine was a relatively mild case. I could not eat a decent sized meal of watermelon without getting some discomfort. The symptoms of melon-belly can vary in intensity and are therefore sometimes described as different symptoms, but they can be the same symptom, just different degrees of it. Some general descriptions are: fatigue to varying degrees a little after eating, and a slight pain in the abdominal area or chest area, sometimes intense in severe cases. These subside in anywhere from 15 minutes to hours.
While it's usually associated with high water content sweet fruit, some people get melon-belly even when eating bananas or other sweet fruit.
Experiments on myself and then with those I've counseled over the years, has resulted in the inescapable conclusion that, for melon-belly, lack of sufficient chromium in the diet is a root cause. Because there is no chromium-specific enzyme or other biochemical marker to reliably assess a person's chromium status, currently there is no valid and reliable lab test for chromium, so you can't check to see if you've got enough (just like with many food-provided nutrients). But there is a simple test you can do at home that is diagnostically revealing. More on this in a moment.
Some people say to simply eat more of the foods that are good sources of chromium, but dietary intakes of chromium cannot be reliably determined because the content of chromium in foods is substantially affected by agricultural growing and harvesting practices, and perhaps by contamination with chromium when the foods are analyzed in lab (this can be why an under-sweet melon or mango can cause it because this is a sign that it was early harvested so not enough chromium found its way into the fruit). So the lists of foods that are good sources are actually lists of foods that are supposed to be good sources. But consider that I had been eating plenty of the "best" sources of chromium lettuce and tomatoes, and still became deficient in chromium. [If the soil that something is grown in is deficient in a particular nutrient, the foods that are grown in that soil will be too. Please see this article and video for an in-depth explanation of why the fruits and green leafies we are buying fall into this category. And for a reason why nutritional intake and adequacy results from Cron-O-Meter and Fitday.com may not be reliable, read this article.]
When I first encountered melon-belly, I had inquired of raw food educators as to its cause, but the general consensus was "we don't know". Since I loved watermelon, and since I should be able to eat it without discomfort, I was determined to discover the cause. If there was one thing I had learned from my health research thus far, it was that the answer is knowable IF you're looking for it from the right perspective.
I will preface this "test" by saying that I do not recommend taking individual nutritional supplements from A to Zinc (with the exception of D and B12). Doing so can get you into a boatload of trouble, and it's not necessary because you can simply take a high quality multi (which, in my considered opinion, is not Theragram, Centrum, One-A-Day et al). If one is deficient in chromium it is a safe bet that they are also deficient to varying degrees in other nutrients as well, which is why I do not recommend taking a chromium supplement long term to ensure adequate chromium levels; an efficacious, high quality multi is recommended.
To help determine if what you are experiencing when you eat a sweet fruit meal is actually melon-belly, get a bottle of chromium picolinate and take the recommended dose for two weeks (usually 200-300 mcg). Then try eating a meal of sweet fruit (and be at ease when you eat it; if you are worried about a potential reaction, this may interfere with proper digestion because worry is a strong emotion, and strong emotions and digestion cannot take place at the same time, so it is digestion that usually suffers). And while you are replenishing your chromium stores (absorbed chromium is stored in the liver, spleen, soft tissue, and bone) this would not be a good time to test to see if this is working by eating those foods that cause your discomfort. Meaning, try to stay away from those foods that cause your discomfort while you're building up your chromium level, then after two weeks, reintroduce those foods while making sure not to overeat on them of course.
When I did this "study" on myself, I tried eating watermelon on Days 1 through 5 of supplementation, and it took almost five days for there to be zero melon-belly. I can go into the "whys" of this, but that is beyond the scope of this article (but if you think about it, you can probably figure out why for yourself... some of this is not rocket science, it's just common sense, requiring only a rudimentary working knowledge of your blood sugar regulatory system, which any layperson can acquire, assuming they care enough about their health).
After Day 5 I was able to eat all the watermelon I wanted with no adverse reaction. People who have a more severe "case" of melon-belly might need to take the chromium a little longer before it will be effectual (again, you can probably figure out why); up to two weeks may be necessary. I also tried an experiment where I overate on watermelon (overeating is normally not a good thing to do, but I was curious). The only result was a "I ate way too much watermelon" feeling, but no signs of any melon-belly.
I also tried stopping the chromium supplementation to see how long it would take for the melon-belly to return (keep in mind, the supplemental chromium is not "curing" anything, it is merely providing enough for the task at hand). After about three days, the melon-belly started to return, mildly at first, and then after about five days, it was back to its previous level. I started taking the chromium supplement again to verify my previous results, and in about three days no more melon-belly. I now prevent melon-belly just fine by the daily use of this nutritional adjunct to my diet.
Here's what's going on
The trace mineral chromium is a key player in blood sugar metabolism. I'm not saying that chromium is the only nutrient needed for this process, but it plays a pivotal role, just as iodine is key to proper thyroid function.
If there is not enough chromium in your diet, blood sugar metabolism can be adversely affected. And keep in mind that another reason people complain about melon-belly after switching to a diet high in fruit is that the more simple sugar you intake (like from fruit), the more chromium is required for processing, because of increased chromium excretion in the urine. And when people start adopting a very healthy diet, they often start looking at making improvements in other areas of their lives, and if they start a vigorous exercise program (which is a great idea) this raises their chromium requirement, which may also tip the scales predisposing them to melon-belly. So what I'm saying is: the healthier a life you're living, the more important chromium is to the proper functioning of your body.
I've also seen chromium play an important role with people who I've helped with the resolution of their diabetes. There have been some folks who did all the right things to be able to get rid of their type 2 diabetes (low fat diet, exercise, etc) and could lower their insulin or med requirement, but not eliminate it until they added some supplemental chromium to their diet.
So, there is a definite cause-and-effect relationship between chromium levels and blood sugar metabolism. And for some people, when they change to a low fat, high sweet fruit diet (the diet all human beings are designed to eat), if there's insufficient chromium in their diet, they can manifest melon-belly to some degree.
And since candidiasis (an overgrowth of candida) can also be caused by a handicapped blood sugar regulatory system, sufficient chromium is key to resolving this as well.
If you're wondering why there may be insufficient chromium in your diet, a good article and video is here.
There is considerable interest in the possibility that supplemental chromium may help to treat impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes, but the official research to date is inconclusive. No large, randomized, controlled clinical trials testing this hypothesis have been reported in the United States. Nevertheless, this is an active area of research... but if you're going to wait until there have been multiple, peer-reviewed, double-blind, placebo controlled studies of thousands of people for many decades, you'll likely be waiting a very long time, especially when you consider that a simple fix for diabetes could be shown to be a chromium supplement in conjunction with an improved diet which would effectively kill the billion dollar diabetes industry.
If this "test" that I've outlined shows you that it is indeed a lack of sufficient chromium in your diet that is causing your melon-belly, I recommend that you not continue taking the chromium product (it was just to help you "test the theory"), and instead, take a high quality multi. Why not just keep taking the chromium supplement? Think of it this way: If you are low in sufficient chromium, what are the odds that this was the only nutrient that you are low in? My research tells me that it's a pretty safe bet that if you are low in one nutrient, you are also low in others. If you haven't yet watched the above mentioned video and read the above mentioned article, now would be a good time.
And if you suffer from what you think is melon belly, but taking chromium does not help, then you are dealing with something other than melon belly.
And if you're wondering why some fruits cause it more readily than others, there are a few contributing factors: water content of the fruit (affects the speed of sugar uptake into the blood), the fructose:glucose ratio (they are processed differently), and obviously the chromium content of the fruit itself. Combine all these with how much you're eating, how fast you're eating it, and your chromium "status", and it can be less than straightforward to diagnose melon belly.
I've attempted to give you enough information so that you can try and determine, for yourself, if a lack of chromium is a cause of your discomfort when eating a sweet fruit meal. If you don't feel comfortable doing this "test" yourself, I strongly suggest you seek the counsel of someone who understands the above mentioned info. Read my disclaimer to see who I recommend. And remember, discomfort/pain from eating a meal of just fruit can be caused by a number of factors, and possibly by a combination of some of them; i.e. primary and secondary causes. So, insufficient chromium may be one of the contributing factors in your case. My point? Don't assume that your condition is caused by one singular factor. With the exception of being in a nuclear power plant when there is a serious accident, most health conditions are not caused by just one thing.