If sugar is bad, does that mean fruit needs to be avoided?
It’s a question that has been asked thousands of times in hundreds of different ways. Because of the general fear of sugar, it’s assumed that fruit — which is, admittedly, filled with sugar — must be bad and more likely to contribute to making you gain weight (and become fat).
The concerns spill over to all your favorites: do you need to avoid bananas? What about apples and pears? Will peaches and watermelon ruin my summer body goals?
The (very) short answer is fruit is badly misunderstood. As we’ve discussed before, not all sugar is equal, and any amount of sugar will not make you fat.
Like so many things in health and nutrition, the obvious answer is rarely the correct one. When it comes to fruit, you have to look at the entire nutrient profile to understand why fruit has so many benefits that can offset the sugar and make it more of a weight loss aid than a weight gain food.
In this episode of That’s Healthy, Right?, we examine the real concerns with fruit, the fallacy of the relationship between fruit and weight gain, look at the research behind the benefits of eating fruit daily, the best time of day to eat fruit, and how much fruit is too much.
Have a question you want to be considered for the show? To submit a question, email a voice recording that you can do here to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity — Nutrients
Impact of Whole, Fresh Fruit Consumption on Energy Intake and Adiposity: A Systematic Review — Frontiers in Nutrition
Health benefits of fruits and vegetables — Advanced Nutrition
Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men — New England Journal of Medicine
Changes in intake of fruits and vegetables in relation to risk of obesity and weight gain among middle-aged women — International Journal of Obesity
So Now Kale Is Bad for You? — Born Fitness
Dietary patterns by reduced rank regression are associated with obesity and hypertension in Australian adults — British Journal of Nutrition
The effects of grapefruit on weight and insulin resistance: relationship to the metabolic syndrome — Journal of Medicinal Food
Adam Bornstein: Everything in me wants to make this episode last about 10 seconds where I just tell you that fruit does not make you fat.
Eating a piece of fruit won’t make you fat, don’t worry about the sugar in fruit.
But, I can’t help myself and I need to go a little bit deeper simply because, for nearly 20 years, people have been asking me if fruit makes them fat. And it doesn’t, but I think a lot of people have difficulty understanding why.
And it starts with the fact that most fruits are filled with sugar and people believe that sugar is bad. Let me say that every diet, any diet can allow at least a little bit of sugar. And even the World Health Organization will recommend anywhere from 6 to 12 teaspoons of added sugar.
But that’s the big thing, fruit is made up of natural sugars. And when you’re getting natural sugars within a natural food, there are other components that might be impacting, whether it leads to weight loss or weight gain. In the case of fruit, you have a couple of things that really help it from a weight-loss standpoint. After all, if you look at the research, and there’s a lot of it, it’s pretty overwhelming that fruit helps with weight loss.
There was even a study that was done that looked at about 5,000 Australians. People who eat fruit daily are about 10% less likely to be obese. People who are obese or overweight that eat fruit, they lose more weight.
And all that means is that you are creating an environment in your body that is going to keep you fuller for longer, and it’s going to trigger hormones that are going to make you feel less hungry.
So the foods that you are eating are just making it easier for you to eat less. And that’s a wonderful combination. That’s why so much research has focused on what happens if you eat a piece of fruit before a meal. And they find that you eat so much less.
Another reason why fruit is oftentimes associated with weight loss rather than weight gain has a lot to do with how fruit is oftentimes a replacement for other foods. And fruit is really not calorically dense. You can eat a lot fruit and it doesn’t add up to that many calories.
Case in point, I remember reading an article sometime a while back that if you were to replace one cup of fresh blueberries with a blueberry muffin, just one time per week. So if you would sub out that one cup of blueberries and have an additional blueberry muffin, you would be adding nearly 20,000 calories per year.
That gives you an idea of just the crazy disparity. So if you are replacing more calorically dense foods with fruit, you’re probably going to be saving yourself calories and it’s going to make a big difference in the long game.
Some people worry about eating a lot of fruit. Like most things it’s ultimately going to come down to calories; that if you’re eating few enough calories, even if there’s a lot of fruit in there, you are still setting yourself up for weight loss.
The best example of this, there was a metabolism study where people ate 20 servings of fruit per day. Oh my goodness. I’m trying to digest that, literally. 20 servings of fruit per day.
And they had no negative effects on weight, blood pressure, or triglycerides. In fact, they actually reduced their LDL a whole bunch, which just goes to show you, even if you eat a ton of fruit, that’s not an issue if you’re staying in line.
So please, eat your fruit, enjoy it if it’s something that you enjoy, and know that it’s probably going to have a positive effect on hunger. And if you’re trying to lose weight, it’ll definitely play a role in helping you achieve your goal.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.