Who doesn’t love fruit? It’s the perfect snack for any time of day, is super portable and gives us a natural energy boost. Then, there’s the fact that it helps satisfy our sugar cravings – there’s a reason they call it nature’s candy! But while fruit used to be right down the bottom of the food pyramid alongside veggies, it’s copped a bit of a hard time recently. Many weight loss eating plans (like Atkins, LCHF and most sugar-free diets) shun fruit, on the basis that some varieties are quite high in sugar (albeit, natural) carbs and kilojoules. But does fruit actually make you gain weight? We asked dietitian Chloe McLeod to set the record straight.
Whilst fruit is not inherently fattening, some fruits contain more sugars and kilojoules than others. Also, some fruits are digested much more quickly than others, so can have more of an impact on blood sugar levels, depending on portions. Because of this, timing when you eat certain types of fruit is good idea, so as to maximise the benefits from them.
For example, berries such as blueberries and raspberries are low in sugar, and rich in antioxidants. These make great snacks at various times in the day. Pears are another great option, due to them them being low GI and a good source of fibre with around 17g sugar. Bananas tend to be richer in carbohydrates, with approximately 20g per banana. I like to recommend these be included around training sessions, so the carbohydrates can be utilised best by the body. Watermelon has a particularly high GI which means it gets digested quickly. However, it has only 6g of sugar per 100g (approx 2/3 cup), meaning it won’t actually impact blood sugar levels as much as one might think.
The most important thing to be mindful of is fruit juice, due to the excess kilojoules. 1 cup of orange juice has approximately 20g of sugar, and whilst this is comparable to the sugar in a banana or pear, the lack of fibre in the juice means it will shoot sugar levels straight up, whereas the fibre in whole fruits slows down digestion, meaning less impact on sugar levels. Also, keeping your fruit intake to 2-3 serves per day is suggested.
-Chloe McLeod, Accredited Sports and Practicing Dietitian and the director of The FODMAP Challenge.
So, no — fruit isn’t fattening, per se. At the end of the day, kilojoules are kilojoules. If you eat more than you burn off, you’ll gain weight (and vice versa) — whether your daily intake is made up of fruit and veggies or chips and donuts. But thanks to being rich in fibre, antioxidants and nutrients, fruit has a lot more to offer than many other types of food. Provided you stick to 2-3 portions per day as Chloe suggested and go easy on the OJ, fruit probably isn’t going to make you fat.
That said, if you’re follow a low carb diet, you’ll probably find that most types of fruit won’t fit into your daily carbohydrate allowance. In that case, you’re not really missing anything in terms of health benefits — there’s nothing you can get from fruit than you can’t get from veggies. But you might miss the taste of a fresh, juicy mango on a summer afternoon or grapes on your cheese platter!