5 Ways Fruit Keeps You Healthy and Lean
Fruit is the reason for the fall of mankind, No, really. Look at the Bible. The man and the woman ate the forbidden fruit and here we are today.
Whether you take the Genesis story as divine revelation or ancient lore is irrelevant. It is interesting that in the story fruit contains evil and corruption.
Reading some of the keto and paleo blogs, and some well-known authors since the mid-2000’s, you would be led to believe this is true!
The claim is that fructose is absorbed in the intestine and transported through the hepatic portal vein to the liver, where it is converted into liver fat, which destroys the liver, and then the fructose is converted into the backbone of fats, glycerol (1).
All true, but there is more to the story.
Fruit isn’t detrimental to your health, won’t make you gain weight, and won’t give you diabetes.
5 Ways Fruit Makes You Healthy and Lean
In this article, I make the case that fruit will make you leaner, fitter, healthier, and prevent some of the world’s most pernicious diseases.
1. Fructose (Fruit Sugar) Will Make You Leaner
Fruit has gotten a bad reputation over the past 15 years as fear over fructose has swept the world. This has fed the low-glycemic craze, Paleo diets, and now keto diets. This is an irrational fear for several reasons. First, most fruits have low concentrations of fructose.
A typical banana (let’s say, 100 grams or 3.5 ounces) for example, has about 5 grams of fructose. The other carbohydrates are glucose, which you find in table sugar and circulating in your blood, and starch, which accounts for the rest.
But its glycemic index, a measure of a food’s ability to raise blood sugar, is only 51. Part of the reason is that fructose does not cause a large insulin spike as it’s processed in the liver. It has a low caloric density, and it’s usually eaten with other high-fiber foods like oatmeal.
This is why saying eating chocolate bars isn’t any worse than consuming bananas (as one YouTuber has concluded). The initial blood sugar spike might be the same, but a chocolate bar has 4 times the caloric density, less fiber and nutrients, and satiates the body less than a banana.
Chocolate bars are designed to make you eat more. Fruit is designed to make you eat less.
Most of the studies that have shown the detrimental effects of fructose have been on rats and not on humans.
And second, many of those studies forced the rats to consume insane amounts of fructose (the equivalent of drinking 2 liters of soda in one sitting). What we know about humans is that fructose not only doesn’t raise insulin, but it can spare protein and lower insulin levels at the same time (2).
Even in studies where the researchers make people eat 60 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, people see improvement in overall health! And women who eat high levels of fruit, but not necessarily vegetables, are less likely to become overweight or obese compared to women who less fruit (3).
2. Eliminate Soda and Consume Fruit Juices within Reason
If you could eliminate one thing from the standard diet, soda would be the first choice. It has zero nutritional value and a ton of sugar that could wreak havoc on your HbA1c (a measure of your long-term blood sugar), your teeth and everything else between.
Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs for short, including soda, tea, juices, and sports drinks) is most definitely linked to obesity and diabetes. This is probably because the liver can only process so much fructose. Any extra gets converted into liver fat, which is the most pernicious type of fat.
The other problem is that liquid calories don’t register in the brain as well as solid food. More liver fat, same insatiable appetite.
But what about fruit juices? In terms of sugar, it has the same ability to raise blood sugar as soda. But at least fruit juices, depending on the quality and extraction method, have nutritional value. Homemade juices, and some store-bought juices, can still retain most of the nutrition of the fruit.
Fruit juice can also be a convenient way of obtaining necessary nutrients found in fruits. This is especially true when you’re on the go or traveling. It’s a lot easier to sip on orange juice on a plane than to pack orange slices.
I’m not saying you should drink fruit juice that is just sugar water. But a glass of orange juice or a quality fruit juice in the morning isn’t going to give you non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Just be aware that those fruit juices do have calories and can add up if you don’t compensate somewhere else in your diet.
Keep sugar content in mind, and also remember that liquid calories don’t register in the brain as much as solid food. Don’t depend on fruit juices. Use them as necessary and when solid food isn’t a good option.
Combine nutritious juice with solid foods and you should be okay. Regular consumption of 100% fruit juice is actually associated with improved diet quality (4).
Speaking of dense sources of fruit, what about dried fruit like apricots, apple rings, raisins, and dried cranberries? One study looked at the consumption of dried fruit, and despite the high caloric density, people who added dried fruit did not gain any weight (5).
Maybe all those nutrients make people eat less after all. The point is that you shouldn’t avoid dried fruit just because it’s a concentrated source of sugar. It appears there is a difference between Skittles and raisins.
3. Whole Fruit Beats Supplements
I love nutrition science, but one thing I find obnoxious is this ability to zero in on some small component of nutrition, isolate it, and then concentrate it into one tablet.
Research shows that antioxidants taken in pill form don’t provide the same benefit as antioxidants in the whole form. Unfortunately, we can’t take a bunch of pills and isolate compounds and get the same benefit. Natural isn’t always convenient (6).
The other problem with this approach is that fruit contains so much else: flavonoids, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
And did I forget to mention that it also tastes really good to eat fruit? I’ve yet to meet the person who doesn’t like fruit, even those who say they don’t have a sweet tooth. The only people I know who don’t eat it are ones who are scared that a bowl of cherries will send them into a diabetic coma.
4. Fruit Protects You from Disease
In my field, physical therapy, I see a lot of patients who are dealing with lung issues: interstitial lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, asthma.
Researchers in the early 2000’s in Europe found that adding foods high in antioxidants (abundant in fruit) improved respiration in patients with COPD (7).
The Global Burden of Disease Project looked at which foods were causing the most deaths. Needless to say, soda and processed meats like hot dogs were at the top. Guess which food would lead to the most saved lives? You guessed it. Fruit (8).
If you read the Blue Zones by National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner, one of the recurring themes in the book is the consumption of fruit. Every single population he studied, from Corsica, Orange County, California, Costa Rica, to Okinawa all consumed generous servings of fruit.
5. Eat for Variety
One of the hallmarks of a good diet is not just the source or simplicity of the diet, but also the variety. How can a few foods provide all of the essential nutrients that you need to be healthy? The answer is that they can’t.
With today’s modern food supply, there is simply no reason not to experiment with different foods and incorporate as many new foods into your diet as possible.
I’m not saying you should eat something completely new every day. That would be exhausting and too complicated. but why limit yourself to one type of berry when you can have three or four? Why not add pumpkin, figs, frozen fruits, fruit juice, and seasonal varieties to your diet?
Add some pomegranate seeds to your oats or your salad. Not only do we eat too few fruits, but we also eat too little variety, with bananas, Granny Smith apples, watermelon, and orange juice providing the lion’s share of fruit consumption.
The Bottom Line
Fears about the fructose and the sugars they contain (glucose and the combination of glucose and fructose called sucrose) are baseless. Many of the irrational fears about fructose, from producing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to high insulin levels, to diabetes, have been debunked.
How many people have denied themselves the benefits and pleasure of consuming fruit? Fruit protects against disease, extends life, prevents death, gives us energy, and makes us healthier.
Consume fruit juices in moderate amounts (a cup a day) and eat fruit ad-lib as part of your plant-based diet. You will be healthier for it.