Should you worry about eating too much fruit?

July 1, 2014 in Leslie's Featured Content

Should you worry about eating too much fruit?

Lately, I've been bombarded by questions about fruit.  Is fruit good for me?  What about the sugar? Am I eating too much? What's the best type of fruit to eat?

I thought the crash of the low carb diet - Atkins, South Beach and so on - meant we were over our fear of healthy carbohydrates like fruit and whole grains.  Apparently not.

Many new diet books are banning fruit or limiting how much of it can be eaten and when it should be eaten.   The reason: too much carbohydrate from fruit can prevent weight loss, or worse, make you fat.

Okay, that may be true if you eat a dozen apples every day (which would add 1140 calories to your diet). But who does that? As a dietitian in private practice, I assess people's diets every day.  For many people, fruit isn't a regular part of their diet. Instead of giving strategies to cut down on fruit, most often I give tips to increase fruit intake.

Even national surveys agree that most Canadians aren't filling up on fruit. I guess it's easier to grab a bagel or granola bar than an apple or handful of grapes.

The "fruit paradox"

You've heard it before: fruit is nutritious, can help reduce disease risk but it can also promote weight problems.  

From a nutrition standpoint, fruit is a great source of fibre, potassium, vitamin C, and folate, nutrients that help guard against disease.  A diet rich in fruit has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cataract, macular degeneration and type 2 diabetes.

Along with those nutrients, you also get carbohydrate, mainly in the form of the naturally occurring sugar, fructose.  That means, unlike most vegetables which contain much less carbohydrate, fruit also delivers calories.

For example, one medium apple has 25 grams of carbohydrate and 95 calories, 1 medium banana has 27 grams of carbohydrate and 105 calories and 1 cup of blueberries has 21 grams of carbohydrate and 84 calories.  (One cup of broccoli has only 6 grams of carbohydrate and 30 calories.)

Who does need to limit (but not avoid!) fruit intake?

If you are trying to lose weight, you can't eat all the fruit you want.  When I develop weight loss plans for clients, I usually include two to three daily fruit servings depending on calorie intake.  (Eating a couple of fruit servings per day has never slowed a client's weight loss progress.)

If you have prediabetes (also called impaired fasting glucose) or diabetes you also need to limit your fruit intake to help manage your blood sugar level.

And if you have high blood triglycerides (fat) too much sugar from any source, including fruit, can worsen the condition. 

Quantity and type matter

To manage blood sugar, choose low glycemic fruits that release their sugar gradually, rather than quickly, into the blood steam. Most fruits have a low glycemic value; fruit with a high glycemic index are bananas, dates, raisins, watermelon and cantaloupe.

When it comes to high triglycerides, fruits with a high fructose content should be avoided.  Consuming too much fructose enhances fat production in the liver and can cause large increases in blood triglycerides. Fruits lower in fructose include cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, peaches, nectarines and bananas.

So yes, some people do need to limit their fruit intake but they certainly don't have to avoid eating it.   Most of us, however, could stand to increase our fruit intake. 

Health Canada advises adults consume 7 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits (combined) per day. Although there's no official guidance on how many of these servings should be fruit, I recommend that you eat at least four fruit servings (2 cups of fresh fruit) per day.

(One fruit serving equals 1 medium sized fruit, ½ cup of berries or fresh cut up fruit, ½ a grapefruit, mango or papaya, ¼ cup of dried fruit, or ½ cup of 100% fruit juice.)

Keep in mind that dried fruit contains more sugar and calories per serving than fresh fruit.  That's because most of its water - which gives fruit its bulk - has been removed. 

Limit fruit juice to one serving per day. Unlike whole fruit, fruit juice lacks fibre so it doesn't fill you up. When you do drink juice, keep your portion to ½ cup (measure!).

Tips to increase your fruit intake

  • Keep fruit at work. Keep apples, bananas, pears and dried fruit in your desk so you'll have a healthy snack on hand when you feel hungry.
  • Keep fruit visible. Decorate your table, kitchen counter, or desk with a bowl of fresh fruit. Keeping fruit visible and within reach will encourage healthy snacking.
  • Include fruit at breakfast. Make a fruit smoothie with milk or soy milk, berries and ½ a banana. Or top a bowl of breakfast cereal with fresh or dried fruit.
  • Serve fruit for dessert. If you crave sweet after a meal, reach for fruit instead of a high calorie treat. Serve fresh fruit salad, fruit kebabs, frozen grapes, or simply eat a piece of fruit out of your hand.
  • Add fruit to salads. Toss dried or fresh berries, berries, orange segments or apple slices into green and whole grain salads.
  • Consider convenience. Buy packages of frozen berries or cut fruit to add into smoothies. Pick up a fresh food salad or pre-cut fresh fruit from the deli section of your grocery store.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.