When the low-carb diet movement exploded in the late 20th century, fruit found itself in the crosshairs. Many weight-loss experts blame the sugar in it (fructose) as a factor in obesity, with many also maligning carbohydrates, as a whole. But is fruit “bad” for weight loss, or is there more to the story?
Get ready to separate fact from fiction and uncover the truth for yourself. Let’s start by exploring the many potential benefits fruit has to offer.
Health benefits of eating fruit
No matter where you stand on the carbohydrates debate, one thing is hard to deny: fruit is a treasure trove of nutritional goodness.
Take berries and cherries, for example. Their vibrant colors come from anthocyanins, which possess anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties. These fruits even offer protection against heart disease and can help prevent obesity.
That’s right: research suggests these fruits can actually help with healthy weight loss and maintenance. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice have also been linked to weight loss.
Apples, on the other hand, are rich in quercetin, a potent anti-inflammatory compound. And blueberries boast pterostilbene, an activator of longevity genes akin to the renowned resveratrol found in dark grapes and red wine.
With their high fiber content, fruits keep you fuller, longer without making you go overboard on calories. Not to mention, they can help reduce or even reverse damage to your cells and prevent a myriad of chronic diseases.
Why fruit gets a bad rap
In the past 25 years, a pivotal nutritional discovery revealed the impact of hormones on weight gain. Insulin, known as the “fat storage” hormone, is heavily influenced by food. Foods that are high in sugar–including fast-acting carbs and grains, such as white rice and bread–cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and increased insulin production, leading to insulin resistance—a precursor to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Recognizing the significant role of simple carbohydrates triggering insulin, experts advised reducing high-carb foods. This included sugar-rich foods like cookies, cakes, puddings, and other sweet desserts, and even fruits.
But it’s important to distinguish between naturally-occurring fruit sugars and artificially-made sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) often found in processed foods.
Fructose vs. high fructose corn syrup
The natural fructose in whole fruit comes with fiber, water, and beneficial nutrients, making fruit more of a complex (slow-acting) carb than a simple (fast-acting one). HFCS is an artificial sugar made from corn syrup that is extremely high in fructose without any fiber or other nutrients. In other words, it’s packed with fast-acting, blood-sugar-spiking carbs.
Fruit contains much smaller amounts of fructose than foods sweetened with HFCS. You’d have to eat bushels of fruit to match the fructose in a single HFCS-sweetened beverage.
While natural fructose has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels, it’s still important to avoid excessive amounts, which have been found in animal studies to contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Excess fructose intake can directly contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, as well.
So enjoying a moderate amount of fruit is actually quite healthy for most people. But balance and consuming other nutrients is key.
So is fruit bad for weight loss?
The answer is no! But there are some caveats. The concerns surrounding naturally-occurring fructose have largely been blown out of proportion. However, if you go overboard on fruit, you might be consuming too much fructose as well as calories, which could sabotage your weight loss efforts.
It’s also important to acknowledge that fruit may not be the best choice for everyone. If you’re highly sensitive to simple carbohydrates and struggling with weight loss, you might benefit from reducing or temporarily eliminating fruit from your diet to shed some pounds. This explains why stricter, low-carb weight-loss programs like Atkins and the South Beach Diet exclude fruit at first.
Additionally, if you’re following a ketogenic diet, fructose can kick you out of ketosis (the metabolic state where your body shifts to burning fat for energy instead of relying on glucose). So you’ll want to stick to low-sugar fruits and consume in moderation.
Best weight loss fruits
According to studies, these are some of the best fruits for losing weight:
- Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries
- Melons like cantaloupe and honeydew
If you’re following a ketogenic diet, studies show you may still be able to enjoy these fruits while in ketosis:
- Lemons and limes
Stick to fresh fruit when possible. While dried fruit is delicious and nutritious, it’s too high in sugar to be part of a successful weight loss diet.
You can absolutely reach your weight loss goals while enjoying the goodness of fruit. Just be mindful of high-sugar varieties like mangoes and pineapples. And to strike a healthy balance, eat plenty of vegetables, and prioritize healthy fats and high-quality, lean sources of protein.
Remember, moderation is key. Enjoying fruits in sensible portions as part of a well-balanced diet–along with other healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise–can contribute to weight loss. By finding the right balance, you can savor the benefits of fruit while nourishing your body and achieving your goals.