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Does Fruit Make You Fat?

A sugar by any other name would taste as sweet . . . but will it be as healthy? And the bigger question, does the sugar in fruit make you fat?

It can easily be said that in the 1990’s, fat was the number one dietary culprit for weight gain and poor health. Similarly, today carbohydrates are viewed by a large segment of the population in this light. Can’t lose weight? Cut carbs. Feeling bad? Cut carbs. Battling a chronic disease? You get the idea. Because of the popularity of recent diet fads like Atkins and Paleo, carbohydrates are labeled as the culprit for just about every diet related malady, and, by far, the most ostracized class of carbs are simple sugars.

But where does that leave fruit, which gets virtually all their calories from the simple sugar fructose? In my experience in the fitness industry, I’ve come across all manner of opinions regarding fruit and how much it is safe to eat. I’ve heard personal trainers telling clients they must limit themselves to one piece of fruit a day or they’ll never lose weight. I’ve heard competitive bodybuilders discussing how long before their competitions they have to go without fruit in order to get extra lean and stage ready. I’ve even heard a doctor, who promotes a plant-based diet, compare eating a piece of fruit to eating a candy bar because of the sugar content. If the old adage is “an apple a day will keep the doctor away,” can fruit really be so fattening and unhealthy that we need to avoid it altogether?

My answer is simple: Absolutely Not. For all the claims that fruit is fattening and unhealthy because of its sugar content, the above people fail to mention (or probably even read) all the evidence in favor of eating lots of fruit. Believe it or not, research has already been done comparing added sugar to someone's diet with the same calories from added fruit. The results were extremely enlightening: People who added sugar to their diet gained weight, while people who added the same amount of calories from sugar in the form of fruit actually lost weight! [1]

Another study showed that you could actually blunt the insulin response of consuming sugar water or white bread by adding fruit to it [2]. That’s right, more sugar and calories in the form of fruit added to the refined carbohydrates yielded a smaller insulin response! Something is clearly causing fruit to react differently in our bodies than other sources of sugar, so what gives?

Unlike refined added sugars, fruit offers a whole host of additional compounds when you consume it. When you eat a piece of fresh fruit, in addition to fructose you’re getting a healthy dose of fiber, water, and literally thousands of phytochemicals which have beneficial, diverse, and often synergistic effects on your body.

And if a few controlled lab studies don't convince you, look at populations. There are groups of raw vegans who consume the majority of their calories from fruit and rather than being sickly and overweight as you might expect if the sugar in fruit were fattening, these individuals are ubiquitously thin and vibrant, and many of them are competitive endurance athletes as well! In fact, one of our trainers at Vegan Muscle and Fitness who is attending medical school followed a high fruit raw diet for nearly a year, and he stated that in a bloodwork lab when all the students took blood tests, his were the best in the class, including having the lowest glucose (sugar) levels!

Phytochemicals and fiber provide a massive array of benefits in addition to controlling body weight and blood sugar levels, but hopefully, the above clinical and anecdotal evidence will be enough to convince you that fruit will not make you fat. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some bananas to eat.

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[1] Hollis, J. H., Houchins, J. A., Blumberg, J. B., & Mattes, R. D. (2009). Effects of Concord Grape Juice on Appetite, Diet, Body Weight, Lipid Profile, and Antioxidant Status of Adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28(5), 574-582. doi:10.1080/07315724.2009.10719789

[2] Torronen, R., Kolehmainen, M., Sarkkinen, E., Mykkanen, H., & Niskanen, L. (2012). Postprandial glucose, insulin, and free fatty acid responses to sucrose consumed with blackcurrants and lingonberries in healthy women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(3), 527-533. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.042184

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