A client asked me recently ‘can you eat too much fruit?’ Colleagues at work had been telling her that there is a lot of sugar in fruit and she shouldn’t eat so much. Here’s my view on fruit for healthy eating and weight loss.
Eating Fruit Reduces the Risk of Disease
Fruit contains fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy plant compounds in varying amounts according to the type. This is why eating more fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of dying, particularly from cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke)*. This study published last year in the British Medical Journal showed that the average reduction in risk was 5% for each additional serving a day.
Eating Fruit is a Healthier Sweet Taste
Choosing fruit is healthier than eating sweetened breads, cakes, desserts, sweets and chocolate. If eating fruit helps you satisfy the urge for something sweet then that is a healthy change compared to eating high calorie, low nutrient sweet treats.
Fresh Whole Fruit is Best
Be careful with the amounts of fruit you take as juices, smoothies and dried fruits. A standard glass (250ml) of orange juice has 25g of sugar (10g per 100g) whereas a whole large orange has about 13g. It’s easy to eat a larger quantity of juice and dried fruit and therefore eat more fruit sugar but the processing and drying reduces the beneficial plant compounds.
Is too much Fructose bad?
Has fruit been tarred by the high-fructose corn syrup brush? Part of the sugar in fruit is fructose (it varies by fruit). Fructose doesn’t stimulate the production of insulin so is considered a better choice sweet taste for diabetes. But, when taken in large quantities (as in a soft drink) fructose (which is mainly processed by the liver) is preferentially turned into fat rather than being available for the body’s energy needs first. However this is an issue of quantity. The amount of fructose from eating whole fruit is entirely different to the quantity of fructose most people drink in sugar-sweetened drinks (non-diet fizzy and soft drinks and squashes). There is fructose in these drinks whether it is labelled as sugar (which is made up of fructose and glucose) or, as in the US, as high-fructose corn syrup (all fructose). Eating fruit for a sweet taste is good for healthy eating and weight loss, drinking soft drinks for a sweet taste clearly isn’t.
Here are some tips of how to get your fruit balance right:
1. My rule of thumb is to eat 3 pieces of fresh whole fruit (80g equivalent) a day with a meal as a starter or dessert. If you like fruit as a snack have it with protein so it has a slower effect on your blood sugar. For example have a palmful of grapes and a small piece of cheese (25g), a large pear with walnuts (10 walnut halves), slice an apple and spread it with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
2. Get the portion size right. One portion of fruit is a small-medium banana, 2 small kiwi fruit, 12-15 grapes, 3 fingers or slices of pineapple, 4 dried whole apricots. Some people tuck into whole punnets of grapes and a standard 500g punnet of grapes has 75g of sugar (15g per 100g) which is not a good choice for healthy eating and weight loss.
3. Eat a variety of different fruits, go for different colours. That way you get a breadth of valuable vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant compounds.
4. Eat some of the less sweet fruit like berries, citrus and kiwi. Some of the sweetest fruits are tropical and include banana, pineapple, mango as well as grapes.
5. Switch to sweeter snack vegetables as an alternative so that you eat more vegetables. Try cherry tomatoes (Vittoria and Piccolo varieties are lovely), sugar snap peas, sweetcorn (corn-on-the-cob), fresh peas in the pod, and long red peppers (Romano variety) are all sweeter and may help satisfy a sweet tooth.
If you want help to make changes to what you eat and to your lifestyle for healthy eating and weight loss to feel better please get in touch.
* BMJ 2014; 349:g4490. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Wang et al. http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4490