Filling up on fruit seems pretty logical, right? Mother Nature put an abundance of fruit on this earth and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to eat at least three servings a day. So what’s the problem?
Yes, fruit is a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals, and belly-filling fiber. It is also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that neutralize damaging free radicals. Fruit-rich diets are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and many forms of cancer. However, fruit comes in many different forms and most people with access to an abundance of fruit have a tendency to eat too much of it.
Humans are born with an innate preference for sweet-tasting food, and fruit fits that bill with a healthy stamp of approval from nutrition professionals and doctors. The sweetness in fruit comes from fructose, a simple sugar that has come under harsh scrutiny in the past few years. Some medical professionals blame fructose for the uptick in obesity and obesity-related medical conditions, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
The fructose found in fruit is metabolized differently in the body than glucose or sucrose. Fructose is metabolized in the liver, which takes any excess sugar and converts it into triglycerides that get stored in fat cells throughout the body. The increase in body fat and weight can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, both of which can ultimately result in diabetes and heart disease.
Of course, the form in which you consume fruit can make a difference in how your body digests and processes it. Fresh fruit, which is high in fiber, is the best for your body. Apples, pears, cranberries, grapefruit and avocados are lower in sugar compared to fruit juice and dried fruit. Fruit juice has no fiber, so the sugar enters your bloodstream much faster. Dried fruit has the fiber, but because it lacks the water, the sugar is much more concentrated and, like juice, impacts blood sugar levels much more than fresh fruit.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, prediabetes, insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, moderating your carbohydrate and sugar intake is one of the most important dietary lessons to learn. Carbohydrates and sugar raise your blood sugar level, which then causes the pancreas to release insulin, the blood-sugar-lowering hormone. With the aforementioned medical conditions, the body is either resistant to the actions of insulin or does not produce enough insulin, both of which result in too much sugar remaining in the blood. Elevated blood sugar levels are inflammatory and can lead to damage in the heart, kidneys and eyes. Carbohydrates and sugar due to insulin resistance similarly impact people with NAFLD. Dietary changes that decrease carbohydrate and sugar intake in favor of more protein and healthy fat are recommended.
Too Much at One Time
Most people eat too much fruit at one time. It’s not uncommon to have a fruit salad that has the equivalent of three to four servings of fruit in one bowl. Similarly, smoothies and juices usually have four or more serving of fruit and those calories can add up quickly. A daily smoothie or juice with more than 300 calories can pack on the pounds. Plus, studies show that when you drink your calories, you don’t offset those calories by taking in less food later in the day. The net result is more calories in than out and a gradual increase on the scale.
Fruit is an important part of a healthy diet. It’s one of the best sources of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Too much (of anything) can be a problem. Limit your intake to one piece at a meal or snack and make sure to include some kind of protein with it, which will slow down the absorption of sugar and make you feel fuller for longer.