Is Fruit Good or Bad for Your Health? The Sweet Truth
Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc on May 31, 2018
“Eat more fruits and vegetables.”
This is probably the world’s most common health recommendation.
Everyone knows that fruits are healthy — they are real, whole foods.
Most of them are also very convenient. Some people call them “nature’s fast food” because they are so easy to carry and prepare.
However, fruits are relatively high in sugar compared to other whole foods.
For this reason, you might wonder whether they are truly healthy after all. This article sheds some light on the subject.
Excessive Sugar Is Bad, But Its Effects Depend on the Context
A lot of evidence has shown that excessive intake of added sugar is harmful (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
This includes table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, both of which are about half glucose, half fructose.
One reason that excessive added sugar intake is harmful is the negative metabolic effects of fructose when consumed in large amounts.
Many people now believe that because added sugars are bad, the same must apply to fruits, which also contain fructose.
However, this is a misconception. Fructose is only harmful in large amounts, and it’s difficult to get excessive amounts of fructose from fruit.
Evidence suggests that fructose can cause harm when consumed in excess. However, there is not enough fructose in fruit to cause concern.
Fruit Also Contains Fiber, Water and Significant Chewing Resistance
Eating whole fruit, it is almost impossible to consume enough fructose to cause harm.
Fruits are loaded with fiber, water and have significant chewing resistance.
For this reason, most fruits (like apples) take a while to eat and digest, meaning that the fructose hits the liver slowly.
Plus, fruit is incredibly filling. Most people will feel satisfied after eating one large apple, which contains 23 grams of sugar, 13 of which are fructose (4).
Compare that to a 16-ounce bottle of Coke, which contains 52 grams of sugar, 30 of which are fructose, and has no nutritional value (5).
A single apple would make you feel quite full and less inclined to eat more food. Conversely, a bottle of soda has remarkably poor satiety and people don’t compensate for the sugar by eating less food (6Trusted Source).
When fructose hits your liver fast and in large amounts, as is the case when you drink soda, it can have adverse health effects over time.
However, when it hits your liver slowly and in small amounts, as is the case when you eat an apple, your body is well adapted to easily metabolize the fructose.
While eating large amounts of added sugar is harmful to most people, the same does not apply to fruit.
Whole fruits take time to chew and digest. Because of this, you feel fuller and your body can easily tolerate the small amounts of fructose.
Fruits Contain Lots of Fiber, Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
Of course, fruits are more than just watery bags of fructose.
There are lots of nutrients in them that are important for health. This includes fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as a plethora of antioxidants and other plant compounds.
Fiber, especially soluble fiber, has many benefits, including reduced cholesterol levels, slowed absorption of carbs and increased satiety. Plus, studies have shown that soluble fiber can help you lose weight (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
What’s more, fruits tend to be high in several vitamins and minerals that many people don’t get enough of, including vitamin C, potassium and folate.
Of course, “fruit” is an entire food group. There are thousands of different edible fruits found in nature, and their nutrient compositions can vary greatly.
So, if you want to maximize fruits’ health effects, focus on ones that are rich in nutrients. Try fruits with more skin.
The skin of fruits is usually very rich in antioxidants and fiber. This is the reason that berries, which have greater amounts of skin, gram for gram, are often considered healthier than larger fruits.
It is also a good idea to switch things up and eat a variety of fruits because different fruits contain different nutrients.
Fruits contain large amounts of important nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals and various antioxidants and plant compounds.
Most Studies Show Health Benefits
Multiple observational studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of various diseases.
Many of the studies pool together fruits and vegetables, while some only look at fruits.
One review of nine studies found that each daily portion of fruit consumed reduced the risk of heart disease by 7% (11Trusted Source).
Also, a study including 9,665 US adults found that a high fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a 46% lower risk of diabetes in women, but there was no difference in men (12).
Furthermore, one study that looked at fruits and vegetables separately found that vegetables were associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, but this didn’t apply to fruit (13).
Many other studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke — the two leading causes of death in Western countries (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
One study looked at how different types of fruit affect the risk of type 2 diabetes. Those who consumed the most grapes, apples and blueberries had the lowest risk, with blueberries having the strongest effect (16Trusted Source).
However, one problem with observational studies is that they cannot prove that the associations they detect are direct causal relationships.
People who eat the most fruit tend to be more health conscious, less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise.
That said, a few randomized controlled trials (real human experiments) have shown that increased fruit intake can lower blood pressure, reduce oxidative stress and improve glycemic control in diabetics (17, 18Trusted Source).
Overall, it seems clear from the data that fruits have significant health benefits.
Plenty of evidence shows that a high fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of serious diseases like heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Eating Fruit Can Help You Lose Weight
It’s often forgotten that fruits are incredibly filling.
Because of their fiber and water contents and the extensive chewing involved in eating them, fruits are very satiating.
The satiety index is a measure of how much different foods contribute to feelings of fullness.
Fruits like apples and oranges are among the highest scoring foods tested, even more filling than beef and eggs (19Trusted Source).
This means that if you increase your intake of apples or oranges, you will likely feel so full that you will automatically eat less of other foods.
There is also one interesting study that demonstrates how fruits can contribute to weight loss (20Trusted Source).
In this six-month study, nine men ate a diet consisting only of fruits (82% of calories) and nuts (18% of calories).
Not surprisingly, these men lost significant amounts of weight. Those who were overweight lost even more than those who were at a healthy weight.
Overall, given the strong effects that fruits can have on satiety, it seems beneficial to replace other foods, especially junk foods, with fruit to help you lose weight over the long term.
Fruits like apples and oranges are among the most filling foods you can eat. Eating more of them should lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake and ultimately, weight loss.
When to Avoid Fruit
Even though fruit is healthy for most people, there are some reasons why others may need to avoid it.
One is intolerance. For example, eating fruit can cause digestive symptoms in people with and intolerance to FODMAPs.
The other reason is being on a very low-carb or ketogenic diet. The main goal of these diets is to reduce carb intake sufficiently for the brain to start using mostly ketone bodies for fuel instead of glucose.
For this to happen, it’s necessary to restrict carbs to under 50 grams per day, sometimes all the way down to 20–30 grams.
Given that just a single piece of fruit can contain more than 20 grams of carbs, it’s obvious that fruits are inappropriate for such a diet. Even just one piece of fruit per day could easily knock you out of ketosis.
The main reasons to avoid fruit include a relevant intolerance or being on a very low-carb or ketogenic diet.
Fruit Juices and Dried Fruits Should Be Limited
Even though whole fruits are very healthy for most people, avoid binging on fruit juice or dried fruit.
Many of the fruit juices on the market aren’t even “real” fruit juices. They consist of water mixed with some sort of concentrate and a whole bunch of added sugar.
But even if you get 100% real fruit juice, keep your intake moderate.
There is a lot of sugar in fruit juice, about as much as a sugar-sweetened beverage.
However, there is no fiber and chewing resistance to slow down consumption, making it very easy to take in a large amount of sugar in a short period of time.
Similarly, dried fruits are very high in sugar, and it’s easy to eat large amounts of them.
Smoothies are somewhere in the middle. If you put the whole fruit in the blender, it’s much better than drinking fruit juice. Still, eating the whole fruit is best.
Although eating whole fruits is very healthy, the same isn’t necessarily true for fruit juice and dried fruit. Both are high in sugar and easy to overeat.
The Bottom Line
Fruit is healthy for most people.
While excessive sugar intake can be harmful, this doesn’t apply to whole fruits. Rather, they are “real” food, high in nutrients and satisfyingly filling.
If you can tolerate fruit and you’re not on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, by all means, eat fruit.
Try eating more whole fruits as part of a healthy, real-foods-based diet to enjoy their health benefits.
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