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It has been claimed that selective breeding has resulted in fruit that is high in sugar and just as bad as eating candy.

Examples:

They have selectively bred fruit trees to much higher (sweeter sells better) sugar content fruit then your ancestors ate.
source

Fruit has been described as "nature's candy," because it is so high in sugar...
Fruits in those days contained much less sugar and much more fiber than the modern fruits that have been derived from selective breeding
source

Is there any truth to these claims?

  • 3
    In Jared Diamond's book 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' he claims that sweetcorn as we know it (juicy, sweet, delicious) was unrecognizably different at the start of the agricultural revolution 10 000 years ago. Apparently it was a black, hard, very unappetizing prospect indeed. Great book by the way. – user2466 May 16 '11 at 7:01
  • As long as the claim is as broad as "fruit", I don't think there is going to be a single answer. Some fruits have been successfully bred for higher sugar contents, some have been bred for lower sugar contents (e.g. some work on healthful watermelon). The second source gives specific claims for particular kinds of common fruit (bananas, (crab)apples, oranges). I think that should be reflected in the question. – Oddthinking May 16 '11 at 13:40
  • "Natures candy" originally refers to it being as yummy as candy, but healthy. Not as unhealthy as candy. Which it isn't, because it also has vitamins. :) – Lennart Regebro May 16 '11 at 14:42
  • This question can be improved. Maybe add some more definition - like are mass market fruits now sweeter than a century/fifty years ago. – Daniel Iankov Aug 16 '11 at 11:54
  • I would be very surprised to learn of any fruit that has less sugar now than it did prior to the domestication of plants. The closest remaining relative to the wild ancestor of the modern domestic watermelon tastes extremely bitter and can only grow 10 cm wide: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colocynth – fuzzyTew Jun 27 '13 at 21:11
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Yes.

Temperate Fruit Crops in Warm Climates at page 178:

A general objective in most breeding programs is higher sugar content

See Survey of Food and Nutrition Research in the United States, which lists a publication titled:

Fruit breeding. Improvement in color, flavor, sugar content, and yield of apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, sweet cherries, pears, and apples.

Other relevant examples are:

From Proceedings of the 41st Convention of Southern Agricultural Workers:

The purposes of the breeding program in Louisiana are as follows: 1. To breed more uniform shaped table varieties having a higher sugar and carotene content, keeping in mind the ideal type for table as well as for canning.

From Report on the Work and Expenditures of the Agricultural Experiment Stations:

A promising seedling prune has been developed at the Oregon station, bearing a fruit with a higher sugar content than any variety tested

From the 41st Annual Report of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station:

Breeding of the blackberry will be for the purpose of selecting a fruit of high sugar content

The Relation of Certain Biological Principles to Plant Breeding, page 46:

Previous to the time of Louis Vilmorin, about 1850, there had been some few selections of mother beets for higher sugar content by placing the roots in solutions of different density and selecting those having the highest specific gravity.

Maize breeding and genetics has a section:

Breeding Sweet Corn with Higher Sugar Content

There is also a New York Times article Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food:

EUROPEAN settlers were content with this colorful corn until the summer of 1779 when they found something more delectable — a yellow variety with sweeter and more tender kernels. This unusual variety came to light that year after George Washington ordered a scorched-earth campaign against Iroquois tribes. While the militia was destroying the food caches of the Iroquois and burning their crops, soldiers came across a field of extra-sweet yellow corn. According to one account, a lieutenant named Richard Bagnal took home some seeds to share with others. Our old-fashioned sweet corn is a direct descendant of these spoils of war.

Up until this time, nature had been the primary change agent in remaking corn. Farmers began to play a more active role in the 19th century. In 1836, Noyes Darling, a onetime mayor of New Haven, and a gentleman farmer, was the first to use scientific methods to breed a new variety of corn. His goal was to create a sweet, all-white variety that was “fit for boiling” by mid-July.

He succeeded, noting with pride that he had rid sweet corn of “the disadvantage of being yellow.”

The disadvantage of being yellow, we now know, had been an advantage to human health. Corn with deep yellow kernels, including the yellow corn available in our grocery stores, has nearly 60 times more beta-carotene than white corn, valuable because it turns to Vitamin A in the body, which helps vision and the immune system.

SUPERSWEET corn, which now outsells all other kinds of corn, was derived from spontaneous mutations that were selected for their high sugar content. In 1959, a geneticist named John Laughnan was studying a handful of mutant kernels and popped a few into his mouth. He was startled by their intense sweetness. Lab tests showed that they were up to 10 times sweeter than ordinary sweet corn.

Mr. Laughnan was not a plant breeder, but he realized at once that this mutant corn would revolutionize the sweet corn industry. He became an entrepreneur overnight and spent years developing commercial varieties of supersweet corn. His first hybrids began to be sold in 1961.

Within one generation, the new extra sugary varieties eclipsed old-fashioned sweet corn in the marketplace. Build a sweeter fruit or vegetable — by any means — and we will come. Today, most of the fresh corn in our supermarkets is extra-sweet. The kernels are either white, pale yellow, or a combination of the two. The sweetest varieties approach 40 percent sugar, bringing new meaning to the words “candy corn.” Only a handful of farmers in the United States specialize in multicolored Indian corn, and it is generally sold for seasonal decorations, not food.

We’ve reduced the nutrients and increased the sugar and starch content of hundreds of other fruits and vegetables.

  • 2
    Why on earth did anyone downvote this well-sourced and correct answer? – Ernest Friedman-Hill Mar 11 '16 at 13:47
  • 1
    @ErnestFriedman-Hill I don't know, but now I added more references. Maybe I should add a couple each day until it is upvoted. I don't think I'd run out in a lifetime. – DavePhD Mar 11 '16 at 14:36

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