Fruit: Is it a Weight Loss Friend or Foe?

Do you ever hear something that makes every fiber of your being cringe with frustration? I have this sort of visceral reaction when it comes to the oft-repeated health claim that people should either greatly limit or eliminate their consumption of fruit in order to lose weight. Before we dive in, a few housekeeping items.

-I realize that some people have an actual allergy to fruit. I have one friend who is *gasp* allergic to berries and a lot of other fruits! This should go without saying but if you have a medical condition that causes you to be unable to eat certain things…don’t.

-Grapefruit should be avoided if you’re taking certain medications because it can suppress enzymes that help your body clear more than half of commonly prescribed drugs, leading to higher levels of said drugs in your body. Bad news!

-Some people with IBS have likely been told by their doctors to steer clear of certain fruits as part of a low FODMAPs diet.

I’m not a nutritionist or doctor, and as always, you should talk to healthcare professionals before making any major dietary changes. OK, that should cover all of my caveats. Onwards!

Let me clearly and unequivocally say here that FRUIT. WILL. NOT. MAKE. YOU. FAT.

The current state of affairs is that 70.7% of adults in the US are clinically overweight, and of that number, 37.9% of them are considered obese. Experts agree that we are eating too much sugar, which is contributing to obesity and myriad health problems. Now, in the rush to avoid sugar as part of the weight loss war being waged in this country, there are quite a few popular diets that require people to eliminate fruit from their diet because the naturally occurring sugars (fructose) in fruit are thought to contribute to weight gain. This might seem to make sense, but anytime you hear something that sounds a little off, it’s time to put your critical thinking cap on.

Since fruit contains large amounts of simple sugars (which are well known to induce obesity), it is reasonable to expect that their consumption should contribute to obesity rather than weight reduction. However, research has consistently shown that most types of fruit have anti-obesity effects. This, coupled with their vitamin and mineral contents, has led health organizations to encourage the consumption of fruit for weight reduction purposes.

There’s a big difference between a cube of sugar that you add to your coffee and eating a piece of fruit that comes beautifully packaged with fiber, antioxidants, water, and phytonutrients.

Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, explains that, “Fiber provides its greatest benefit when the cell walls that contain it remain intact. Sugars are effectively sequestered in the fruit’s cells and it takes time for the digestive tract to break down those cells. The sugars therefore enter the bloodstream slowly, giving the liver more time to metabolize them. Four apples may contain the same amount of sugar as 24 ounces of soda, but the slow rate of absorption minimizes any surge in blood sugar.”

GREAT! Now we know how freaking incredible fruit is for us. Nature’s perfect snack. So what about fruit juice and dried fruit?

Fruit juices are not a better option for weight control than sugar-sweetened beverages. Ounce for ounce, fruit juices — even those that are 100 percent fruit juice, with no added sugar — are as high in sugar and calories as sugary sodas. So it’s no surprise that a recent Harvard School of Public Health study, which tracked the diet and lifestyle habits of 120,000 men and women for up to 20 years, found that people who increased their intake of fruit juice gained more weight over time than people who did not.

And as for dried fruit, it essentially concentrates the calories and sugar into smaller packets, making it easier to consume excess calories. However, dried fruit is better than juice because it preserves the fruit’s cellular structure, along with the health assets that provides. Since dried fruit travels easily and does not rot, it can mean the difference in getting some fruit rather than none.

In a nutshell:

  • most types of fruit contain negligible amounts of fat
  • fruit contains a large amount of water and a considerable amount of dietary fiber
  • dietary fiber leads to an extended satiety state, which regulates the appetite
  • higher satiety can reduce total food intake and directly influence the total energy consumption
  • fruit is loaded with beneficial micronutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants
  • eating fruit drives beneficial gut bacteria, and gut health is all the rage lately

So the next time you hear a friend, colleague, or family member tell you that they’re ditching fruit to lose weight, you can just nod and smile, comfortable in your newfound knowledge of the nutritional benefits of fruit and their anti-obesity properties. AND DELICIOUSNESS! Can you imagine depriving yourself of blueberries, strawberries, cherries, mangoes, etc.? No thank you.

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