Many people have differing beliefs when it comes to fruit. While someone might claim it’s the healthiest thing you can eat, another person will say it causes weight gain and insulin resistance.
So who's right?
In this article I will discuss:
- Pros and cons of fruit
- What I believe to be the healthiest fruits
- The best way to consume fruit
- There are many fruits that are commonly lumped into the category of vegetables since they don’t contain the sweet flavor and high-sugar content as other fruits.
Some of these include zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, olives, avocados and many others.
While these are technically fruits, since most people don’t view them as such, this article will be focused on the higher-sugar, sweet tasting fruits.
4 Health Benefits of Fruit
Fruit is a natural, whole food that contains many health benefits.
While people can certainly run into problems with fruit, overall it should not be avoided and can be a healthy part of your diet.
1. Loaded with Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants
Fruit is a rich source of essential nutrients that our bodies need to function optimally.
It can be a very tasty way to get more vitamins and minerals into your diet, while also supplying your body with important antioxidants that neutralize free radicals.
2. Good Source of Dietary Fiber
Phit Tip: Some folks with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, or ulcerative colitis should be careful with fiber consumption since it can be hard on the digestive system and can aggravate the intestines.
Fruits contain structured water, the most superior form of water that is amazing at hydrating your body.
This is why fruit and vegetable consumption can really help with staying hydrated. (3)
Wondering how much water to drink on a daily basis to be optimally hydrated? Check out our other article on hydration.
4. Alkalizing to The Body
Although some fruits like citrus are acidic, when we consume them they help to alkalize our bodies pH.
Fruits and vegetables are very helping in balancing our bodies pH.
Clearly fruits can help you in many ways, but I must say, you can receive all of these same benefits from consuming non-starchy vegetables which have far less sugar than fruit, and are an even healthier option!
The Dark Side of Fruit
As mentioned above, fruit has a number of health benefits and can be a healthy part of your diet.
What doesn’t get enough media attention is where people can go wrong with fruit.
Yes it is a nutritious whole food, but fruit also contains high amounts of sugar. Fruit contains relatively high amount of fructose, a type of sugar that can be very problematic when eaten in high amounts.
Studies have shown fructose to decrease insulin sensitivity, meaning you body must produce higher amounts of this hormone insulin to regulate your blood sugar. (4)
It’s important to remember that insulin is our bodies #1 fat storage hormone, so the more insulin that’s being released, the more body fat your body will store.
Excessive fruit consumption can be especially problematic for folks who are dealing with:
- Insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Fatty liver disease
If you are very physically active, not overweight, and have great insulin sensitivity, then the sugar in fruit is likely not going to be as big of an issue for you (especially if you consume it strategically like I outline further in this article)
The most common argument people like to tell me when defending fruit is: “Ryan, how can fruit be bad? Our ancestors ate fruit for thousands of years before heart disease, cancer, and diabetes were prevalent? Clearly it must not be the fruit!”
Yes that is true our ancestors have been eating fruit for a long time, BUT there were many differences from how we consume fruit today.
1) In the past humans would only eat fruit when it was fresh and in season, which was typically somewhere around 4-12 weeks of the year. (A few areas of the planet had longer fruit seasons)
Then, for the other 9-11 months, they had no fruit.
Unlike today were fruit is shipped from all across the planet so you can have fresh fruit in your grocery store 365 days a year.
2) The fruit eaten by our ancestors were heirloom varieties which were much smaller and had less sugar.
Humans have hybridized fruit varieties to make them larger, sweeter (more sugar), and more aesthetically pleasing, all of which make the consumer buy more, but as a result are much less healthy for us.
3) Primal populations had far more active lifestyles and were constantly moving.
Most people today work sedentary jobs and don’t move nearly as much.
After you eat a fruit (or any high-glycemic carbohydrate), your body converts it to blood sugar in the body.
When you are active and moving around, you use up the blood sugar so the pancreas doesn’t have to release as much insulin.
On the flip side, when you are sitting around, you body has no need for all that sugar and as a result your pancreas secretes a large amount of insulin, which causes our bodies to store fat.
Unlike vegetable juice which is extremely healthy to consume, Fruit juice can be very problematic to your health.
Fruit juice is very similar to soda to your body. It may have less chemicals than soda, but the sugar content is about the same.
Fruit juice removes all the fiber which helps slow down the conversion of sugar in the body, so you get an even bigger spike in blood glucose levels.
It also allows you to consume far more fruit than you normally would. Who would sit down and eat 3-4 whole oranges in under 5 minutes? Nobody! But, people drink a 12-16oz glass of orange juice that quickly all the time.
As though that's not bad enough, most of the store bought fruit juices are heavily processed, not fresh, and don’t contain hardly any of the vitamins and antioxidants found in freshly picked whole fruit.
"Fruit juice is very similar to soda to your body"
Healthiest Fruit to Eat
The best fruits to consume are the ones that have lower sugar content and are more nutrient dense.
Those tend to be wild, organic berries. Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
Strawberries are ok too, but have been very hybridized and are therefore not a nutrient rich or low in sugar as other types.
As a rule of thumb, if the berry is the same color on the inside as it is on the outside, then it's a good berry to be eating.
Now I know you may be thinking, “the blueberries I eat are a different color inside, typically white or light green”
Great point. That is because most blueberries sold in stores are hybridized. High-bush blueberries.
Wild, low-bush blueberries have 300-400% more antioxidants than hybridized varieties and are the same dark blue color inside and out.
Low-sugar citrus such as lemons and limes are also a great option to consume regularly. Grapefruits are an excellent choice as well.
Here is a list of the fruits I recommend consuming more often than other types:
- Wild, organic blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries
- Lemons and Limes
- Green Apples
This does NOT mean you can’t eat any other types of fruit.
So many other types of fruit have valuable nutrients and shouldn’t be avoided entirely.
This list simply gives you the fruit options that are going to be good to be the best option to consume more frequently.
The Best Way to Consume Fruit
Now this may be the most important thing you read all day.
Strategic consumption of fruit can be the differentiating factor to weather it brings you more benefit or more harm.
Here are my 3 favorite tips on how to reap the benefits of fruit while minimizing the downsides:
Don’t over do it
I’m sure you have heard the popular saying, “you can have too much of a good thing”. This certainly applies to fruit
Having one or two servings of fruit each day is radically different than having 4-5 servings.
Most of your plant intake should come from non-starchy vegetables which are low in sugar/starch, but will still supply your body with micro-nutrients and dietary fiber.
People who are trying to lose weight or improve their blood sugar control should restrict fruit intake and keep in to one or two servings per day.
If you are very physically active then you can likely handle slightly higher fruit consumption without experience adverse health effects.
Following a “fruitarian” diet consisting of only or mostly fruit is a terrible idea and can negatively affect your health in a serious way. (5)
2. Eat Whole Fruits with Healthy Fats
Healthy Fats are essential for our bodies. Eating an adequate amount of the right types of fat has been shown to have many health benefits
One of the best things you can do to slow the conversion of sugar in the fruit into blood glucose is having it with dietary fiber and healthy fats.
Here is an excellent article explaining why healthy fats are your friend in the presence of high-glycemic carbohydrates (such as fruit) (6)
This is why it is best to consume fruit with your meal, or right after as a dessert. All the fiber and healthy fats in your meal will help to minimize the damage of the sugar in the fruit.
That is how fruit is meant to be enjoyed. Not as the mainstay of your meal, but rather as a sweet treat in addition to all the healthy fats, high-quality proteins, and non-starchy vegetables on your plate.
After all, it’s referred to as nature's candy for a reason.
3. Movement and Fruit Consumption
When having fruit, or any high-glycemic carbohydrate, it’s important to move your body after you eat it.
Physical activity after eating has been shown to reduce post-prandial glucose levels.(7)
That's a fancy way of saying it will lower the spike in blood sugar, which means less weight gain and more energy after meals.
Phit tip: Don’t do high-intensity exercise post meal since that can impair digestion. Low-moderate intensity movement is ideal such as walking right after you finish eating.
High-intensity exercising, such as H.I.I.T sessions are great before your meal since that can also increase insulin sensitivity and beneficial to your health.
To sum things up, to minimize the damage when consuming fruit or other starches/sugars:
- Exercise before your meal, doesn’t have to be a long duration. A H.I.I.T workout or resistance training session would be perfect
- Consume plenty of healthy fats alongside your fruit
- Go on a nice long walk as soon as you finish eating