You’ve probably heard that “sugar makes you fat.” And rightfully so: there’s a large body of evidence that shows a correlation between increased sugar intake and obesity.
But what about fruit?
All fruit contains sugar-- in the form of fructose. Because of that, you may have heard you should limit your fruit consumption. Many “experts” tout low carb, low fruit diets (especially when paired with exercise) as the best way to burn fat and increase lean body mass.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t get the recommended amount of fruit per day.
So who’s right?
When trying to improve your body composition, is fruit your friend or foe?
Why Eat Fruit?
First, let’s look at fruit from an overall health standpoint …
The benefits of eating fruit are well established:
Fruits provide a rich array of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals-- all of which support a balanced diet and may aid in the prevention of disease.
Eating fruit can help prevent weight gain when consumed in a healthy, balanced diet.
A meta-analysis (review of multiple research studies) found strong evidence that eating more fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death, particularly from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In one large study of 65,226 adults, those who consumed 7+ servings of fruits and veggies per day had a significantly lower risk of mortality compared to those with minimal to no fruit or vegetable consumption.
So it’s clear that from a disease prevention and longevity standpoint, eating more fruit is definitely a good idea.
But why, though? What happens in your body when you eat a piece of fruit?
What Happens In Your Body When You Eat Fruit
At the simplest macronutrient level, fruit is comprised of a simple sugar called fructose. That means that fruit should only be looked at as a sugar, right?
Not necessarily. When you eat fruit, your liver processes fructose before it’s absorbed through your small intestine. Research shows that exposing your gut to more fiber-rich foods such as fruit helps “drive the gut ecology toward an anti-obese condition by increasing the prevalence of lean-type bacteria but reducing that of obese-type bacteria.”
In other words, fruit may help foster “good” bacteria that help prevent weight gain.
Because of the purported benefits of fruit consumption, the USDA recommends 2 cups of fruit per day (5+ fruits and vegetables total), depending on your age, and says that making half of each plate you eat fruit and vegetables can be an effective strategy to help prevent weight gain. However, do not count fruit juice as part of your daily fruit intake.
How Eating Fruit Affects Your Body Composition
What if you’re trying to lose fat?
Does eating lots of fruit have negative effects on body composition because of the high sugar content?
Let’s explore that a bit further.
There have been several clinical trials that have studied how fruit affects your body composition.
A 12-year prospective study of 74,063 female nurses (the infamous “Nurses Health Study”) looked at changes in fruit and vegetable intake in relation to weight gain and obesity risk. The research team found that an increased amount of fruits and vegetables in the diet reduced the likelihood of obesity by 24%.
In regards to weight loss, a study published in the journal Metabolism compared the short-term effects of a low-fructose diet vs a moderate natural (fruit-sourced) fructose diet on weight loss. The researchers found that dieters who only restricted fructose from added sugars lost more weight than the subjects who restricted added sugars and fruit. In other words, eliminating fruit did not have a greater impact on weight loss.
Another study compared 60 obese patients split into two groups: one group reduced their calorie intake by 500 kcal per day and the other focused on consuming eight vegetables per day and 2–3 fruits per day. Regardless of the study group, those who had the greatest increase in fruit and vegetable intake showed the highest amount of weight and fat loss overall.
A 2016 paper published in the journal Nutrients called Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity that reviewed over 100 studies revealed several interesting findings:
Fruits have high water content and contain fiber, which can help keep you full longer and curb overeating.
Eating fruit every day is inversely correlated to weight gain (in other words, fruit can help you prevent weight gain).
Eating whole fruits can prevent obesity and fat gain in children, too. Fruit juice, however, may have the opposite effect, according to several studies. Researchers actually recommend reducing fruit juice intake as a strategy for overweight prevention in high-risk children. This is particularly important for toddlers, as one study found that drinking 100% fruit juice regularly at age 2 is associated with higher odds of becoming overweight between 2 and 4 years.
The Bottom Line About Fruit
Fruit is a primary component of a healthy diet as it contains essential micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. We are also discovering new types of phytochemicals in various fruits with myriad health properties.
These nutrients have a clear “anti-obesity” effect, according to several large-scale clinical studies.
But the takeaway on fruits in your diet is still pretty clear-cut and requires re-stating.
Consumed whole, fruits provide a spectrum of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber that can support a more well-rounded diet. The changes these nutrients create within the body (increased satiety, lower caloric absorption, and so on) appear to support long-term weight maintenance and can possibly help promote weight and fat loss.