There seems to be widespread concern that fruit should be avoided due to it’s sugar content. “That’s just like eating a candy bar!” I’ve heard people say of bananas. The thinking goes something like:
Fruit = sugar,
Sugar = bad,
Fruit = bad.
So is fruit too sugary? Fortunately for those of us who like fruit, this is a misleading oversimplification. Let’s examine these claims:
Fruit ≠ sugar. Fruit doesn’t necessarily have that much sugar in it. An apple might have 19g, but a can of Coke has about 39g, and mocha frappuccino from Starbucks has 61g of sugar. Also, while those drinks offer very little in terms of nutritional value, fruit tends to have a lot of fiber and important micronutrients. Granted, it does have some sugar, but:
Sugar ≠ bad. …not all sugar consumption is bad. Sugar is not poison and our body likes it so much for good reason: sugar is a great energy source, since it can be broken down easily for activities that demand a lot of fuel quickly.
The problem with sugar is that it can contribute to obesity when consumed in things such as sugary beverages, which are easy to consume in large quantities, not filling yet high in calories.
Obesity is the most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes (1) and long-term over consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates is strongly associated with heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States (2). So sugar itself is not bad; obesity and heart disease are bad.
So, is there any evidence to suggest that high fruit consumption causes obesity or heart disease?
Fruit ≠ bad. Actually, the majority of the evidence seems to show the opposite. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption has been shown in many studies to decrease risk of heart disease, decrease obesity and is even associated with lower all-cause mortality. (3)(4)
An effective weight loss strategy?
One study compared two groups, having one simply consume more fruits and vegetables, and having the other consume less high-fat and sugary foods. They found the the first group was more successful at losing weight over the course of a year than the second. (5)
Other studies have highlighted the helpfulness of fruit consumption for weight-loss as well. (6)
Which fruits though?
Another study including over 180,000 people in total and conducted between 1984 and 2009 compared many different kinds of fruits and corrected for other lifestyle influences such as exercise in order to determine whether fruit consumption itself truly was beneficial for decreasing risk of type 2 diabetes. It concluded that it was, and that blueberries, grapes and apples had the strongest benefits, while fruit juice consumption tended to increase risk slightly. (7) (Other studies have come to this conclusion about fruit juice as well (6) )
Nuances and provisos: To be fair, a lot of the literature did not report strong protective benefits of fruit consumption, and some reported none at all, only stating that while fruit consumption was not associated with weight gain or increased risk of diabetes, it may not have protective benefits either.
There are always a variety of results in the research, and I always mean to represent the majority-consensus as accurately as possible, to whatever degree it exists. It seems in this case though that the worst case scenario is that fruit may not have protective effects but is certainly not a likely contributor to obesity, diabetes or other related diseases.
We should remember that obesity is first and foremost caused by excess calories, which can be reached via the consumption of any kind of food.
However it is harder to reach excess when eating foods that are lower in calories and more filling. For example, an apple is sweet, but is much more filling and lower in sugar and calories than a can of coke. Therefor eating an apple instead of drinking a can of coke is probably a smart decision. Don’t let fruit haters get you down 🙂
In conclusion, fruit isn’t just sugar. Sugar isn’t always bad; it depends largely on how it’s consumed; and increased fruit consumption seems to be an effective way of combating the health detriments associated with excessive sugar consumption.