We’ve all been warned about the dangers of too much sugar in our diets. While many people are trying to cut back on sugar, the focus on the negative effects of the white stuff has made many question one very common source of sugar: fruit. Fruit has long been purported as a staple of a healthy diet, but it can also be loaded with sugar. In an effort to stave off pounds as well as decrease the risk of health problems associated with sugar, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, some people have sworn off all forms of sugar, including fruit. But is it misguided to lump bananas and apples in with Snickers and cookies?
The short answer is yes. “The natural sugars in fruit are processed a bit differently by your body, because the fiber in the fruit minimizes the sugars’ impact on blood sugar levels,” Nancy Z. Farrell, R.D.N., an adjunct professor of nutrition at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, explains to Consumer Reports. “In addition, you also get vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients.”
The Health Benefits Of Fruit
Fruit has been found beneficial in reducing the risk for many of the chronic health problems with which sugar is associated, including cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Also, despite its sugar content, eating more fruit may actually help you keep your weight in check. The Harvard School of Public Health diet and lifestyle change study showed that people who increased their intake of whole grains, whole fruits (not fruit juice) and vegetables over the course of the 20-year study gained less weight. This may be due to the fact that, as mentioned earlier, in addition to sugar, fruit is packed with fiber as well as water, both of which help people feel fuller longer on less calories.
How Much Fruit Should You Eat?
All of that being said, this does not make fruit a free-for-all food, as some have been led to believe. Fruit still does contain calories and carbohydrates, both of which affect your weight, and thus your overall health. As with most things in life, moderation is key. Writing for Health, Cynthia Sass, nutritionist and registered dietitian, says the general guideline is that most people should be consuming about two to four servings of fruit a day. She says a serving is one cup or a piece of fruit about the size of a baseball. She also cautions that the “sweet spot” for how much fruit you should consume is dependent upon your age, sex, size and activity level.
The good news is that most of us are not eating enough fruit, so you could probably stand to add a serving or two to your daily diet. According to a 2015 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 87 percent of Americans don’t meet recommendations for fruit consumption.
A Note About Fruit Juice
When thinking about the role fruit plays in your diet, one thing to keep in mind is that you should focus on whole fruits, not fruit juice. That’s because when you reduce a fruit to juice, even 100 percent fruit juice (meaning it has no added sugars), you’re also stripping away many of the healthiest parts, including fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Because of the lack of fiber, in particular, the sugars get into your system much more quickly than they do when consumed in whole fruit form, thus leading to insulin spikes.
What’s more, you’re liable to unwittingly consume more calories when drinking juice rather than whole fruits. “When you drink your calories instead of eating them, your brain doesn’t get the same ‘I’m full’ signal that it does from solid food, even though you wind up consuming far more calories in the process,” explains a group of nutritionists writing for the Washington Post.
Bottom line—fruit is definitely part of a healthy diet, and its sugar content should not scare you off!