Fruit consumption: Is there such a thing as eating too much fruit? Does the sugar in fruit really make us fat? These are questions that have been asked, contemplated, and Googled many a times over the last few decades. Unfortunately, answers to this question have been given by non-nutrition professionals, misleading the general public to believe that any type of sugar (even naturally-derived sugar) should be vilified and is the culprit of chronic disease and weight gain.
First Things First, Sugar.
Let me clear a few things up. For one, glucose (the simplest form of a carbohydrate) is a monosaccharide sugar. Glucose is our brain and bodies’ primary fuel choice, meaning, our bodies were made to utilize- you guessed it- SUGAR first!
Secondly, fruit contains fructose, which translates to “fruit sugar”. Fructose is found in various amounts, depending on the type of fruit. When paired with glucose, it forms the disaccharide sucrose (table sugar). So what’s the difference between all of these sugars listed above? Is fructose better or worse than others?
You Don’t Have to be Pear-fect.
It is not a matter of whether glucose or fructose is better. It is a matter of understanding how both are metabolized in the body and the effects each has on short- and long-term health. Glucose and fructose are both absorbed in the small intestine. While glucose stimulates insulin production and secretion from the pancreas, it is then immediately taken up by cells for energy use. Fructose, on the other hand, needs to be broken in the liver. Since fructose doesn’t break down as quickly, fructose doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as rapidly, so the negative effects on short-term health are few. However, high amounts of fructose intake can have adverse effects on long-term health.
Natural Sugar High.
What’s considered high amounts of fructose? Let me set the record straight that all fruits are not created equal first. A banana does not have the same nutrition profile as an apple. Grapes cannot be compared to raisins (even though they are dried grapes!). And drinking orange juice is not the equivalent to eating a fresh orange. Why is this?
Fresh fruit contains live enzymes, fiber, water content, and some micro- and phyto-nutrients that cannot survive heat and other food preparation processes. They are the gold standard of getting your 4-5 suggested servings of fruits in per day, or 1-2 1/2 cups, depending on your sex and body mass. Anything more than this can potentially (but not likely) lead to weight gain simply because excess carbohydrates are stored as fat when not utilized. Due to its low caloric and carbohydrate content, most fruits will not amount to a cause for concern or worry about weight gain.
Please note that fruit juice and dried fruits are concentrated in sugars and provide little to no live enzymes, fiber, or water content. Canned fruits can contain preservatives and/or added sugars, and high-fructose syrup is NOT the same as fructose found in fresh fruit. It is a processed and concentrated version, resulting in a calorically dense, sugary substance.
Frozen fruit is actually equivalent to eating fresh fruits because the fruit is typically frozen at peak ripeness. This means that the fruit contains the highest amount of vitamins and antioxidants and the freezing process preserves these micro- and phyto-nutrients. Juts be cautious of any added sugars.
The Skinny on Fruit.
Contrary to these circulating rumors, many studies have shown that fruit consumption has an inverse effect on an individual’s weight and BMI. According to a 2016 study published by MDPI, titled The Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity, anti-obesity mechanisms such as lower caloric intake, increased fiber consumption, increased satiety, concentrated micronutrient and phytochemical delivery, and gut microbiome transformation outweigh the pro-obesity mechanisms fructose induces.
Another review by the National Food Institute also associated regular fruit intake with decreased body weight and reduction in the risk of obesity development. However, they noted that further studies need to be conducted that factor in all of the following variables: “energy density, energy content, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical form of fruit and preparation methods”.
The Core of It All.
At the end of the day, fruit does not have to be intentionally avoided unless an individual has a medical reason or fructose intolerance. Consuming 4-5 servings or 1-2 cups of fruit per day delivers nutrients that outweigh any sugar concerns by far. Enjoy fruit at breakfast, as a snack by itself or with nut butter, or as a sweet dessert! No guilt has to accompany it. Just enjoy and savor nature’s sweet treats, and remember, everything in moderation.