Most of us love fruit, but does that mean we should enjoy it all the time? Is there a difference between fruit sugar (fructose) and the other types like sucrose? And does our body see them as the same?
Fruits contain a mix of carbohydrate types, such as simple sugars, starches, soluble and insoluble fiber. Simple sugars break down quickly in the body, while fiber slows digestion. Fruit has a small amount of fructose plus some other slower digesting carbohydrates types, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber. It provides you with sustained energy and lots of other good stuff.
Our bodies know what to do with fresh, whole, unprocessed fruits. When we eat fresh fruit slowly, mindfully, and in moderation, we generally feel satisfied. Fruit is often very satiating because of the fiber and water it contains as well as all of the chewing that goes into consuming it.
What Is Fructose
As mentioned above, fruit contains fructose. Fructose is a simple sugar. High fructose corn syrup also contains fructose but the difference is that fruit provides us other nutrients along with the fructose, where high fructose corn syrup sure doesn’t. Excess fructose in processed foods and drinks is just fertilizer for our fat cells… it tells the body to store fat and leaves us still hungry. This is especially true when we drink the fructose in fruit juices or soft drinks. We keep drinking or eating, but never get the “I’m full” signal from our brains.
In the meantime, our liver has to work really hard to store the excess junk in our fat cells. Most of the fructose in our Standard American Diet comes from high fructose corn syrup. It is used to sweeten many products from ketchup to yogurt to fruit juice. We also get fructose from sucrose – table sugar.
If you eat whole, fresh, foods in the right amounts, you don’t have to worry too much about fructose. You would have to eat a lot of fruit to match the fructose in one soft drink or fruit juice. And let’s not forget, humans have been eating fruit for millions of years, therefore our bodies are well adapted to the small amounts of fructose found in nature.
Fiber & Nutrients
Fresh fruit also contains fiber and nutrients, as well as vitamins, minerals, and a variety of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, has many benefits including reduced cholesterol levels, slowed absorption of carbohydrates, and increased satiety. There is also evidence that soluble fiber can contribute to weight loss.
Fruits contain several vitamins and minerals, the most predominant are Vitamin C, Potassium, and Folate. However, different fruits contain different nutrients so it is a good idea to switch up the kinds of fruit you are consuming. Fruits like apples and oranges are two of the most fulfilling foods you can eat. To maximize nutrient density, aim to eat fruits that are in season to your local area.
When You May Want to Avoid Fruit
Fruit is healthy for most people, but there are a few instances when people may want to avoid fruit or limit your intake to 1-2 servings per day.
- In people who have fructose intolerance, eating fruit can cause digestive symptoms. These symptoms include but are not limited to: bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, gas, heartburn, stomach pain, and nausea.
- You are eating a low-carbohydrate diet/ketogenic diet. Typically this kind of nutrition plan calls for 50 grams or less of carbohydrates per day. Because a single piece of fruit can contain more than 20 grams of carbohydrates, fruit is not appropriate for this type of nutrition plan.
- You have an unhealthy relationship with fruit. You may be asking, how can you have an unhealthy relationship with fruit? Well, the truth is, you can have an unhealthy relationship with any food, healthy or not. I once had an unhealthy relationship with coconut butter so we broke up for a while.
Eating lots of fruit when it is summertime and/or local and in season is not the concern. The question lies in HOW and WHY you are eating it. It is important that you are not using fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings, as that won’t help you to change your dessert or sugar habits. As with any food, you also want to make sure that you feel in control when you are eating fruit.
Ask yourself, am I reaching for fruit to satisfy a sugar craving or fill an emotional void right now? If the answer is YES, try the two-minute rule. Get out the fruit, and then wait a few minutes before you actually prepare and eat it. This will give you some time and space to determine if you are eating it for the right reasons (it tastes delicious, I’m physically hungry, I’m making a conscious decision to eat something delicious, I feel good about this decision) or are you eating it for the wrong reasons (I’m anxious, I’m stressed, my Sugar Monster is roaring it’s ugly head).
Don’t get me wrong, if you are eating fruit instead of processed foods such as cookies, candy, muffins, etc. it is absolutely a BETTER choice. Having an apple with some almond butter or strawberries and macadamia nuts for an afternoon snack will provide you with much more nutrition than anything you will find in a vending machine. And putting some coconut butter on fresh berries after dinner is a better choice than reaching for the pint of ice cream in the freezer.
But if you find that EVERY night after dinner you are reaching for fruit as dessert to tame your sugar craving, you may want to evaluate what is going on. Again, it’s not the fruit that is the issue, it goes back to HOW and WHY you are eating it. Are you choosing to eat it for the right reasons? And if you are, great!!! Enjoy every bit of it, eat it slowly and mindfully, but if not, how can you change your habits? Can you go for a walk after dinner or make yourself a cup of herbal tea instead?
Tips To Keep In Mind
- Eat the rainbow. As with vegetables, the good stuff is in the plant pigments.
- Eat for the season. If you live in MN like I do, strawberries are not fresh in January. I tend to eat more fruit in the summer for three reasons:
- Fruit is in season. I can get fresh local organic blueberries at the farmers market.
- In the summer, it is likely that you are more active and therefore require more carbohydrates. With the warmer weather, fruit is very satisfying and refreshing on a hot day.
- During the winter months, aim to get your starchy carbohydrates from root vegetables as they are in season and readily available. This time of year you may or may not find yourself eating much fruit at all because it not in season.
- Eat fruit according to your activity level. On the days that you are training or just moving more in general, eat more fruit because your body can handle it better. On days when you do a light workout such as walking or yoga, or find yourself sitting a lot, you may have 1 serving of fruit or none at all.
- Eat a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit. Focus on getting in 7-9 servings of vegetables per day and then fill in with fruit. It can be too easy to do the opposite.
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup and other forms of fructose. Choose fresh foods instead of processed versions.
It is important to pay attention to how you feel after eating certain types of food and in what amounts. That is ultimately what helps you to create your own supportive nutrition plan. Notice how fruit works for YOUR body.
For about 90% of the population, fruits are a great addition to a real food-based diet that includes protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats.
The key is to eat fresh, whole, unprocessed fruit in moderation. Avoid processed food and drinks with fructose. Many individuals would experience many benefits by replacing some of the processed “junk” food that they are currently eating with a couple of servings of fruit per day.
HAVE FAITH & TAKE ACTION