Sugar hasn’t been nearly as “up for debate” in the nutrition and wellness world as carbs and dietary fat have over the past few years. RD’s and doctors agree: Limit the sweet stuff or cut it completely. Simple table sugar gets a hard pass; artificial sweeteners get a finger wag since we don’t really know their long-term effects; and natural sources like agave and honey, get a tentative green light when used in moderation. But how about sugars from a different natural source: fruit?
“Fruit is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and, most importantly, fiber but overeating fruit is never a good idea,” says Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN founder of B Nutritious. “Too much fruit gives your body too much sugar, which can have adverse affects on your blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and your weight,” she adds.
The culprit is fructose, but fruit’s saving grace is fiber. Fruit is high in the simple sugar, but it’s not the same as industrial high fructose corn syrup. The sugar is processed by the liver and directly absorbed through your small intestine into your blood. The main difference is the speed at which this happens. Food-additive fructose absorbs instantaneously, while fructose from fruits is slowed by the presence of fiber and other phytonutrients. (The fiber is also beneficial for your heart health and digestion.)
Problem is, “if your body’s already consumed adequate amounts of sugar, this extra fructose will be basically stored as fat,” Alpert says. For this reason, be especially mindful of eating fruit high in sugar and dried fruit. Dried fruit is a diet no-no for many reasons. “First, it’s very easy to over eat; second, it often has added sugars; and third, even without the extra sugars, the water is removed, which basically concentrates the sugar levels,” Alpert says.
But, it’s not all bad news.
The science on fruit and weight loss
Nixing fruit isn’t necessary or really all that helpful for weight loss. Research published in the journal Metabolism found dieters who only restricted fructose from added sugars (compared to those who abstained from added sugars and fructose from fruit) were more successful. Men and women lost more weight when they were allowed to snack on fruit.
What’s more, research published The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found fruits like apples and berries can blunt the insulin spike your body undergoes when you eat high-glycemic foods. Traditionally, poor-quality carbs urge your body to release a surplus of insulin so your blood sugar surges, then drops really low so the next response is a starvation measure: Your body dumps fat into your blood stream. But if you eat, say, white bread, with low-glycemic fruits like blueberries or strawberries, that spike will be subdued. Yes, you’re adding more sugar into the mix. But the phytonutrients in those fruits are able to slow down the transportation of sugar through your intestines and thus your bloodstream, blocking some of the absorption. So, if you’re going to have a muffin, bread, pancakes, or French toast, make sure they’re loaded with berries.
Bottom line: Don’t shy from fruit, but try to consume no more than 2 servings a day to help keep your sugar levels in order and help with weight loss. And if you’re really looking to cut body fat, opt for low-sugar fruits or cut it out temporarily.