Yes, you read that right. The heading of this post is Eat and Enjoy Fruit! I'm climbing up on my soapbox today because far too many "wellness gurus" out there are demonising fruit due to the fructose it contains, and advising people to cut it out. Or telling you which fruits are "good" and "bad" according to how much fructose they contain (and in the process COMPLETELY IGNORING their phytonutrient content!).
A lot of the concern about fruit and fructose arose because the processed food and beverage industry started using High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from corn as a cheap sweetener. And when that happened, people went from getting small amounts fructose only from the fruit (and some veggies) they were eating, to getting LOTS of it - hidden in soft drinks and all kinds of processed foods you wouldn't even suspect contained sweetener, things like pasta sauces and soups. And that's where the problems started...
You see, only the liver can metabolise fructose. And whilst the liver can easily handle the fructose you consume when you eat a piece of fruit or two, ingesting large amounts of fructose in processed foods or sweetened sodas, without any fibre to slow absorbtion, is another thing altogether.
Ingesting large amounts of fructose at once places a huge strain on the liver. Through the process of "de novo lipogenesis", our liver cells will process fructose into fat. And the fat produced through lipogenesis will either stay in the liver (creating a condition known as non-alcoholic steatosis - aka "fatty liver" - which is associated with metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance) and/or be released into our bloodstream, which is why HFCS is associated with elevated triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and buildup of visceral (aka toxic) fat around our organs.
So yes, there are legitimate concerns about the prevalence of HFCS in our food supply through soft drinks and processed foods, and the stress this can place on our body as it tries to metabolise it.
But cutting out fruit - or demonising certain fruits that are higher in natural fructose - is absolute madness.
Unless you have a medically diagnosed reason for doing so - an allergy, fructose malabsorbtion syndrome or difficulties digesting fructose - there is no reason why you should exclude fruit from your diet.
You see, fructose is only one small part of the fruit we eat. Fruit also contains much-needed fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. In fact, the phytonutrients in some fruits like cherries, plums, blueberries and pomegranate have been studied and revealed exciting health benefits including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, vasodilation and other beneficial properties. When you cut fruit out of your diet you are also cutting out these important nutrients and short-changing your health. A recently-published study found that not eating enough fruit was associated with cardiometabolic deaths. And other studies have reported that fruit consumption is inversely associated with diabetes risk.
There is a huge difference between how our bodies respond to an unmitigated influx of highly refined HFCS in processed foods and sugary sodas that contain no (or minimal) fibre, and the fructose that naturally occurs in the 2-3 pieces of fruit we eat each day, that comes packaged with fibre, vitamins, minerals and powerful phytonutrients!
To be clear: habitually consuming processed foods and beverages sweetened with HFCS is not a good thing. But eating a couple of pieces of fruit each day? Absolutely fine!
Here are my tips for eating and enjoying fruit:
Eat your fruit WHOLE and FRESH - 2 - 3 serves a day
I recommend my clients eat 2 pieces of fruit each day, or up to 4 pieces if they are very active. Don't gorge yourself on fruit every day as it will only push you into overnutrition.
Be especially careful with dried fruit
I'm not going to tell you not to eat it, but I will recommend that your enjoy dried fruit mindfully. Just remember that a small handful of prunes, for example, is equivalent to eating 8 plums! Dried fruit is delicious, but it's incredibly energy-dense and very easy to eat. So just be mindful not to push yourself into overnutrition when you have some.
Steer clear of fruit juice
We think of fruit juice as "healthy", but the fact is that it's a highly processed food product, and has one of the most beneficial parts (the fibre) removed. Fibre is one of those under-rated nutrients that is actually incredibly cardioprotective, protective against bowel cancer, feeds our healthy inner bacteria and can even keep our hormones stable. And fruit is especially rich in the awesome soluble version. So processing it out is just madness.
Vary your fruit and aim to eat a rainbow of fruity colours
Add in a fruit you have never tried before, or one you rarely eat. Instead of choosing your fruit according to some kind of pyramid or heirarchy of fructose content, choose them for variety and colour! Why? The different coloured pigments in fruit actually contain different healthy phytonutrients with different beneficial impacts on the body!
So eat (and enjoy!) 2-3 pieces a day, guilt-free! And if you are going to cut anything out of your diet to avoid the damage of excess fructose ingestion, then feel free to cut out the sugary sodas and ultraprocessed foods that contain HFCS!!
Micha R, Peñalvo JL, Cudhea F, Imamura F, Rehm CD, Mozaffarian D. Association between dietary factors and mortality from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the United States. Jama. 2017 Mar 7;317(9):912-24.
Basaranoglu M, Basaranoglu G, Bugianesi E. Carbohydrate intake and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: fructose as a weapon of mass destruction. Hepatobiliary surgery and nutrition. 2015 Apr;4(2):109.
Chanchlani N, Russell E. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. Student BMJ. 2013 Oct 1;21.
Du H, Li L, Bennett D, Guo Y, Turnbull I, Yang L, Bragg F, Bian Z, Chen Y, Chen J, Millwood IY. Fresh fruit consumption in relation to incident diabetes and diabetic vascular complications: A 7-y prospective study of 0.5 million Chinese adults. PLoS Medicine. 2017 Apr 11;14(4):e1002279.