It's time to clear up some confusion about fruit, sugar, fructose and how this all fits together into a healthy diet.
It’s January and that means there’s a new crop of diet books out. You’d think we’d have learned by now that the next diet gimmick is not going to be the answer to our weighty woes. Believe me, the reason 2/3 of the population is overweight is NOT that no-one has yet written the right diet book.
But hope springs eternal, as does the January crop of New Year New You offerings. I was reviewing one of them this week and came across the claim that avoiding certain fruits can help you lose weight.
Specifically, the author recommends staying away from fruits that are high in fructose because, he explains, fructose is converted by the liver into fat. The high-fructose fruits on this author’s hit list include bananas, pineapples, grapes, and watermelon. Good "low-fructose" fruits include citrus fruit, berries, melons, and stone fruits like peaches.
I think we need to clear up some confusion about fruit, sugar, fructose, and how this all fits together into a healthy diet. (For one thing, some of the alleged high-fructose fruits have less fructose than the so-called low-fructose fruits...but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
When It Comes to Sugar, Fruit Is Not the Problem
The amount of sugar in the typical Western diet is definitely a concern. Health authorities recommend keeping added sugars to no more than 5% to 10% of calories (which works out to 100 - 200 calories or 25 - 50 grams of sugar per day).
However, this guideline applies to concentrated sweeteners that are added to foods; things like sugar, honey, and maple syrup. We generally aren’t worried about the sugar that you get from whole fruit.
For one thing, the natural sugars in fruit come packaged with other valuable things. Vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in fruits add nutrition to the diet. But whole fruit also contains fiber and water, two features that help provide some natural portion control.
See also: Is Fruit Good For You?
Just think about how many apples you might eat at one sitting compared to how many cookies you might be able to polish off. When it comes to filling up on fewer calories, apples definitely take the cake (pun intended).
Some of this natural portion control disappears when fruit is juiced and/or dried. Most of us would be hard-pressed to eat more than two whole apples. But it wouldn’t be that hard to consume the equivalent of 4 or 5 apples if we were drinking apple juice or eating dried apples.
I usually recommend limiting your fruit intake to 2 to 4 servings a day (depending on your size and how active you are). And I definitely advise prioritizing whole fruit over fruit juice and dried fruit. (While consumption of whole fruit is associated with a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, consumption of fruit juice is associated with increased risk.)