Should I eat fruit? How much fruit is OK to eat? How much is too much? Will the sugar in fruit make me gain weight?
These are questions I get asked every day, so I thought that I would write a blog post to clear this confusion - based on science of course.
The main reason for this confusion is because fruit is relatively high in sugar compared to other whole foods, so I will break this down for you.
“Sugar” is bad, but the context is important...
We all know that added sugar is harmful to our health, and there is a lot of evidence to support this. By added sugar I'm talking about table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup, both of which are half glucose and half fructose.
When fructose is consumed in large amounts (as it does in these added sugars), this is when it is harmful to us as it causes extremely negative metabolic effects and promotes the build up of fat around our liver and organs.
But there is only a VERY SMALL AMOUNT of fructose found in whole fruits compared to sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. It is difficult to overeat on fructose by eating whole fruits. Also, the sugar in fruit is digested slowly, as opposed to added sugars where they are quickly digested which brings me to my next point…
Whole fruit contains important fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Whole fruits are amazing for our health as they contain lots of beneficial nutrients. They should definitely be consumed (in moderation) as part of a healthy lifestyle.
But I'm not going to bore you and talk about the benefits of these nutrients here, you can find hundreds of articles on google for this...
What I want you to understand is that most fruits take a while to eat and digest, meaning that the fructose contained without the fruit hits the liver slowly. This is mainly due to their high fiber content.
When fructose hits your liver quickly and in large amounts (like it does with sugary sodas and candy bars) then that can have disastrous consequences… but when it hits your liver slowly and in small amounts (from whole fruit) your body can easily take care of the fructose.
If you want to maximize the health effects of fruit, focus on the fruit with the greatest amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals compared to the sugar and calorie content. Refer to the image below to compare different fruits. Berries are the best!
Fruit is always bad if it is juiced or dried
Even though whole fruits are very healthy for most people, the same can NOT be said for fruit juices and dried fruit.
Many of the fruit juices on the market aren’t even “real” fruit juices. You can pretty much call them sugar water! They are often made from water, some sort of concentrate and a whole lot of added sugar.
Even if you do find a juice that is 100% real fruit, it is still bad for you.
The amount of sugar in juice can be the same as a soft drink.
This is because many serves of fruit go into one juice and the fibre has been taken out. What does this mean? The liquid (containing a large amount of sugar) is digested fast and consequently is sent to your liver fast. And when this amount of sugar is sent to the liver, it is likely to be turned to fat as it cannot metabolise this large amount of fructose at once.
Also, consuming liquid calories has very little affect on satiety (keeping you full) so you end up eating far more than you would if you ate the fruit whole.
Just don't drink juice... and if you are going to, then make sure there is only one serve of fruit and the rest leafy greens.
Dried fruits (like raisins) can be problematic too. They are very high in sugar and it is easy to consume large amounts.
Smoothies are somewhere in the middle. If you put the whole fruit in the blender, then it’s much better than drinking fruit juice, but not as good as eating whole fruit. It is definitely a good idea to make smoothies yourself and only allow 1 to 2 serves of fruit.
What about when it comes to weight loss?
Fruit should be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet by everyone. It is when we get down to the nitty gritty of weight loss that we need to look at it a bit more closely. Also, like any food, of course there is a limit to how much you can eat.
If you are substituting fruit for other sweet snacks (like chocolate, lollies, cake and biscuits) then of course it is an incredible swap. These "discretionary" foods come with a huge amount of calories and sugar and lack any vitamins and minerals. By eating fruit instead you are saving yourself excess calories and providing your body with plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre to keep you full and as a result eat less. These are amazing benefits and will help you drop weight easily.
It is only when you already have an other wise healthy, wholefood based diet yet you still struggle with your weight, that you may want to start to limit your fruit intake.
Low carbohydrate diets work AMAZINGLY for lots of us. We can all tolerate different amounts of carbs - and fruit is high in carbs. If you can eat carbs and stay slim and happy then great! You are one of the lucky ones...
However, if lowering your carb intake helps you lose weight then fruit restriction may be important and will definitely amplify the process. I personally need to stick to a low carb lifestyle and so eating minimal fruit (but lots of veggies) works best for me.
So, what do I recommend and how much should you eat?
At the end of the day, fruits are “real” foods. They are highly nutritious and so fulfilling that eating them can help you feel more satisfied with less food.
If you eat lots of sweet crap, ditch it and replace it with whole fruits. Chances are you will drop weight and your health will improve in numerous ways.
If you can tolerate fruit and you’re not on a low-carb diet then go ahead and eat fruit… preferably as part of a healthy, real food based diet that includes animals and plants. If you feel that you can maintain or lose weight quite easily and fruit doesn't effect this, then I recommend 2 serves of (whole) fruit per day. Preferably choose the ones with the least amount of sugar and only eat more than two serves if you are pretty active.
If you struggle to lose weight and need an extra "push" then reducing your fruit intake can be very beneficial (after you have already cut out all other sugars first and reduced your carbohydrate intake). Cutting out (or down on) fruit doesn't mean you can't reap the benefits of all of the vitamins and minerals. You can still receive more than enough by eating plenty of vegetables. I recommend only eating berries and just sticking to one serving per day (around 1 cup max).
I hope this cleared the confusion for you!
Please comment or email me you have any questions at all!