Don’t eat fruit, it’s got too much sugar... and too much sugar makes you fat. Therefore, eating fruit makes you fat.
How many of you have heard some variation of this before from an influencer, "nutrition expert," or friend? If you’re like, yeah me, I’ve heard that… keep reading.
(Spoiler alert, this statement is false.)
In order to understand this topic, we are going to get a little bit science-y, but I am going to try to keep it as simple as possible. To start, let’s talk about the sugar in fruit - fructose.
What is Fructose?
Fructose is a monosaccharide, aka the simplest form of a carbohydrate. Mono (one) saccharides (sugar) contain only one sugar group, which means they can’t be broken down any further. Every kind of carbohydrate has a different effect in the body depending on its structure and what food it comes from. The chemical structure affects how quickly and/or easily the carbohydrate molecule is digested and absorbed by the body. Where it comes from also affects whether other nutrients are provided along with the carbohydrate.
So let's look into that a little deeper…
The word “fructose” might have made you automatically think of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which we all know isn’t the best to consume on a regular basis. Here’s the thing... yes, both HFCS and fruit contain fructose, but their effects on the body are different. HFCS is an extremely stripped down version of fructose; there is literally nothing else to it. So to the body, it is like jet fuel. When consumed, your blood glucose goes very high, very quickly. When our blood sugar gets too high, the body tries to store it in the liver and our muscles. But if we eat a lot of sugar at once (which is pretty easy to do with processed foods), our muscles and liver get “full.” Then, to get rid of the excess sugar, the body prioritizes sugar breakdown for a little while, and puts fat oxidation on the back burner. Meaning we will stop using fat as fuel and start to store more fat while we process the excess sugar. Hence, how eating excess sugar often can make us fat! Fruit, on the other hand, contains additional nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) along with fiber, which affect the digestion and slow down absorption of the fructose into the blood. Plus, the amount of fructose in the average apple is wayyyy less than a can of your favorite soda or candy bar.
The Glycemic Index
In order to fully understand why we need to stop demonizing the sugar in fruit, we need to discuss the Glycemic Index. In short, the Glycemic Index (GI) is a form of measuring how quickly and how significantly a given food can raise our blood sugar. The GI is a scale of 0-100 based on how much your blood sugar increases when you consume 50g of carbs. The scale was set by 50g of carbohydrate from pure glucose as 100. In general, the less-processed and higher-fiber the food/fruit is, the more complex the carbohydrate molecules usually are. Because of this, those foods will usually take longer to digest and have a lower GI. For example, things like candy and breakfast cereals have a high GI, while things like whole grains and veggies have a lower GI.
Some fruits, however, do have a higher GI. Let’s look at this table:
Immediately, you are probably like: “WOAH, that’s so high. No wonder so-and-so told me to cut back on my fruit consumption.” Hold your horses. The confusion here comes from understanding the Glycemic Index versus the Glycemic Load.
The Glycemic Load (GL) of a food is an alternative measure to GI. It is based on the GI of a food multiplied by the serving size of the food. Foods are given a score similarly to how they are with GI. If a food's GL is under 10 it is low, 10 to 19 is medium, and 19 and above is considered high. Even though the GI and GL are great measures of sugar content, they still don’t take into consideration the other elements that the food might have to offer. Fruit is full of fiber, micronutrients, water, and phytochemicals that your body needs to thrive.
Let’s look at watermelon, since it ranked highest on the above image of the GI scale. Watermelon has a high glycemic index, around 70 out of 100. However, the glycemic load of watermelon is actually very low (typically a GL of 2 per a 100 gram serving) meaning that your blood sugar is not changing much after eating it. Glycemic Load is the more important term relevant to health. Aside from GI and GL, there are multiple health benefits to watermelon. Not only is it low in calories, around 45 calories per cup, a serving size also contains: 20% of daily vitamin C needs, 17% vitamin, fiber, and it’s loaded with the antioxidant lycopene. And with all that water content, it’s also a good source of hydration. The Glycemic Index is used for scientific purposes and can be really helpful for people with a disease like diabetes, when you have to carefully monitor your blood glucose. But it still doesn’t give us the entire story with a lot of natural carbohydrate sources.
So, no, fruit does not inherently make you fat. And anyone that tells you this is full of crap. There are MANY other (very processed) foods you could potentially be worried about causing excess fat gain, and trust me, fruit isn’t one of them. If you’re concerned about health and optimal body composition, go ahead and eat that orange, but maybe think twice about downing a bottle of orange juice every morning (or worse, a can of orange soda).The benefits of including whole, unprocessed fruit regularly in your diet far outweigh the cons. And if I haven’t convinced you enough, and you still are really worried about the sugar in fruit, try pairing your fruit with a protein or a healthy unsaturated fat! This will increase the amount of time it takes for your body to metabolize the meal, slow your insulin response, and it will keep you fuller longer… win, win, win!