Have you ever heard that fruit has too much sugar to be healthy? Or perhaps you have tried to cut back on fruit when you were cutting carbs to lose weight? Or it could be you love fruit and believe it to be very nourishing and even take it as far as to have a glass of orange juice every morning.
We all agree that vegetables are nutritious, but where does that leave fruit?
So, you want to know the truth:
Is fruit actually good for you?
Or is just loaded with too much fructose (sugar) to be healthy?
Fruit Facts: Is Fruit Bad For You?
Too often, we make fruit about sugar or carbs and have a tendency to avoid the rest of the picture. However, if this were really true, then eating fruit would be the same as eating a cookie. Yet, this is not at all the case! I think we can all agree, fruit lovers and haters, that a piece of fruit and a cookie are VERY different nutritionally. It’s easy to say the fruit bowl ALWAYS trumps the cookie jar. But what exactly are the facts on fruit? Will it make you gain weight? Raise your blood sugar? How much should you eat?
How Much Fruit are Americans consuming?
Half of the U.S. population is consuming less than 1 cup of fruit per day. And 76% did not eat the recommended (1.5-2 cups) amount of fruit each day. (Americans are also grossly under consuming vegetables – check out my post on ways to get more vegetables in.)
With these facts in mind, I think it’s safe to say that overconsumption of fruit is not the problem America is facing in its obesity epidemic. As it turns out, Americans should be consuming more fruit, not less.
Fruit Has Sugar, But is More than Sugar
But what about the sugar content?
First things first, fruit does contain sugar…that’s a fact that can’t be ignored. And sure, we hear about the ill effects of sugar all the time. But, the sugar in fruit isn’t what we should be worried about. First, the fiber in the fruit helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Additionally, if you pair the fruit with a protein or even fat, it will also slow the absorption of sugar. The thing you should actually try to avoid is added sugar. You know, that extra sugar manufacturers love to stuff in your yogurt, spaghetti sauce, and of course, cookies and pies.
In fact, studies have shown that fruit should not even be restricted in those with type 2 diabetes as it does not cause any negative effects on weight, waist circumference, or blood sugar control.
But what about the fructose?
You may have heard that fructose is especially bad and be wondering where fruit fits into this picture since it contains fructose.
Let’s start with the facts.
- Fructose is one of the most common types of sugar we consume. While nearly every cell in the body can handle glucose, it turns out only the liver can metabolize fructose. And when fructose is broken down it creates triglycerides, uric acid, and free radicals, which is unhealthy when consumed in excess.
- The consumption of fructose has increased dramatically over the years and is in large part due to the signifiant amount of added sugar in processed foods.
- According to the Harvard Letter, the problems from fructose and sugar occur when they are added to food. However, fruit is still beneficial and we should not worry about the fructose in a whole fruits.
Nutritional Benefits of Fruit
In addition to the sugar being naturally occurring and the fiber helping to aid in the metabolic process, fruits are LOADED with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.
Studies have shown again and again that fruit, like vegetables, offers protective benefits against cancer, heart disease, and stroke. There is even evidence that eating more fruits and vegetables prevents weight gain and aids in maintain a healthy weight. Since being overweight is the number one contributing factor for type 2 diabetes, this means an increased consumption of both fruits and vegetables can help prevent diabetes.
How Much Fruit Should You Eat
So how much fruit should we eat? Most healthy adults should aim to consume 1.5- 2 cups per day. One serving of fruit is half a cup or the size of a tennis ball.
- Eat it, don’t drink it. – Juice is different than fruit. By juicing the fruit, the fiber is removed and we are left with a product higher in both calories and sugar. Stick with the fruit. Blend it in a smoothie if you want, but try to avoid fruit juice opting to flavor water with whole fruits instead.
- Eat a variety of colors and kinds. – “I only like bananas.” I’m pretty sure my previously picky eater-husband said this to me when we first started dating. Bananas are fine, but you’ll be missing on so many nutritional benefits if this is the only fruit you eat! Eat a variety of colors and enjoy the fruits that come and go with the season.
- Replace the Cookie Jar with a Fruit Bowl. – We eat what we see. If you set cookies, candies, or junk food out on your counter, chances are this is what you and your family will eat. If you leave a fruit bowl out, then you’ll eat this instead! I remember my mom would always leave grapes or fresh washed berries out to dry for a while and by the time she put them away they were probably half eaten!
- Eat fruit and enjoy it! – Yep, let go of those guilty fruit-is-too-sugary-feelings and just enjoy it! Fruit is not what is causing you to derail with your diet. If you haven’t reached your weight goals I can almost guarantee it isn’t because you are eating too much fruit. Next time you crave something sweet, instead of reaching for a cookie, opt for a fresh juicy peach sliced over greek yogurt, or a crisp apple topped with peanut butter.
Eating More Fruit
Fruit is convenient and it turns out working more of it into your diet is actually quite simple! Generally, fruits need less preparation than vegetables and are usually well received by even the pickiest of eaters.
Here are some tips for working fruit into your day:
- Choose to buy 1-2 different fruits that you don’t usually eat each week. If you are used to enjoying bananas, berries, and cuties then try buying a few apricots or plums and see how they go over with your family.
- Serve fruit with cheese cubes to your kids (or yourself) as an afternoon/after school snack.
- Top plain greek yogurt with your favorite juicy fruit! The juice will help to sweeten the tartness of the yogurt.
- Dip your apple or banana in a favorite nut butter such as peanut butter, almond butter, or even sunflower butter.
- Have a piece of fruit after a meal if you are craving a dessert. I bet it will satisfy your sweet tooth!
- Work some frozen fruit into a smoothie along with some greens.
- Add fruit to the top of your salad for a sweet kick. Berries, apples, and mandarin oranges work great!
Don’t Give Up On Fruit
I would encourage you to examine your diet and really think about how much fruit you are consuming in a day. Are you in the majority of Americans who are not consuming enough fruit, yet dependent upon sugary sweets to satisfy your sweet tooth? Or perhaps, you follow a low carb diet and have given up regular servings of fruit in an attempt to lose weight. I would urge you to reconsider and add some fruit back into your diet. Fruit contains powerful antioxidants, has immune boosting capabilities, and is a quick and easy way to satisfy a sweet craving. So next time you reach for a cookie, choose an apple instead. Next time you wonder if that peach is too sugary, enjoy it and reexamine the 2 teaspoons of refined sugar you pour into your coffee every morning. Let’s not make fruit more complicated than it needs to be.
A role for fruit content in energy-restricted diets in improving antioxidant status in obese women during weight loss
CDC: Adults Meeting Fruits and Vegetable Intake Recommendations – United States, 2013
Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases
Effect of fruit restriction on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes–a randomized trial
Harvard Health Blog: Is Fruit Bad For You?
Harvard Health Letter: Abundance of fructose not good for the liver, heart