As a Registered Dietitian in private practice, I’m often asked 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?
Many diet books ban fruit or limit 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? I assess people’s diets every day. For many people, fruit just isn’t a regular part of their diet. Instead of giving strategies to cut down on fruit, I usually give tips to increase fruit intake.
If you’re as confused about fruit as many of my clients are, I hope this blog will help set the record straight.
The nutritional benefits of fruit
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.
(And contrary to certain food combining claims, you don’t have to eat fruit on an empty stomach to absorb all of its nutrients.)
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.)
Some people need to limit fruit intake
In other words, 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.
Consider the type of fruit
Quantity and type of fruit matter. To manage blood sugar, choose low glycemic fruits that release their sugar gradually, rather than quickly, into the blood sugar. 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.
How much fruit should you eat?
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 (one-half cup) 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!).
If your diet lacks fruit, the following six strategies will help you increase your 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.
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.