When it comes to eating fruit for weight loss the answer may not be as clear cut as some sources suggest. In this article I hope to help you decide whether you should be eating fruit to help you achieve your weight loss, health and performance goals.
We’ll take a look at why fruit – or any food for that matter – can be classified as either good or bad, and how to look at foods in a more helpful way.
Putting this into context of real people’s lives to demonstrate that what is the right food choice for your friend isn’t necessarily the right choice for you.
And finally I want to give you some actionable advice that will help you to decide how much fruit to actually eat.
Is Fruit Good For You?
Fruit is good for you isn’t it so why would this be a question at all?
Popular media might tell you that any particular food type is good or bad. As consumers you and I like to hear this because it makes decision making simple. The problem is that it’s never that simple. When we consider what makes good nutrition, fruit can make part of a great diet, and it can add to improved health, better body composition and improved performance.
Food isn’t good or bad, and fruit is no different. A healthier way to consider this to think about food on a continuum from better choices and worse choices. And then put this into the context of your own life.
Is Fruit Good For Weight Loss?
Samuel and Joanne (below) are two examples of very different people that clearly have different goals, and lifestyles. These people both eat fruit every day but whether this is right for both of them is a good question.
At the end of the day, whether what and how much we eat is good for us or not can be decided on by the outcome.
What is happening in terms of health, body composition and performance? Both of these people could ask ‘how’s this working for me?’
- Overweight male at 31% body fat
- Inactive days with a sedentary job and a long commute
- Showing signs of insulin resistance
- Occasional light walk or outing a couple of times per month
- No purposeful exercise
- Low energy on waking and lethargy in the afternoons
- Lean female at 19% body fat
- Sedentary job and long commute
- Insulin sensitive
- 5 hours of activity weekly such as dog walking
- 4 purposeful exercise sessions per week
- Feels refreshed on waking and can concentrate all day at work
Is This Working For Me?
I would expect Joanne to say ‘yes, this is working, I’m in good shape, I have energy and my health is robust’.
On the other hand I’d expect Samuel to observe that what he is eating and how he is living isn’t quite doing it for him. While there may be lots of amazing elements in his life, such as great social or family life, and rich experiences, in terms of his health, performance and body composition the outcome we can observe isn’t great.
His decisions might be torn.
On the one hand he might feel like he really wants to change and knows that by eating sightly differently, and moving more would have benefits in health. On the other hand he envisages a strict diet and exercise plan to detract from his enjoyable life – taking him away from social activities in exchange for the gym and no longer being able to enjoy his daily bottle of cola.
Could there be a way for healthy choices to augment the other elements of his life?
Stop And Think. Then Move The Big Rocks First
If you were faced with a road block what would you do?
If it meant you could continue on your journey I’m sure you’d move the biggest rocks first – allowing progress in the right direction even if a little bumpy.
After being bombarded with headlines ‘Fruit Makes You Fat’ followed by ‘There’s As Much Sugar In Fruit As Energy Drinks’ and ‘Fructose Is Poison’, it is no surprise when Samuel begins to feel confused about what to eat.
All his life he had considered fruit to be a healthy option and now all of a sudden fruit might not be the best food for weight loss.
Should he stop eating fruit all together if he wants to lose weight?
Let’s take a look.
Negative Calorie Balance
In the very first instance, if Samuel did stop eating fruit to help him lose weight and there were no other changes in his life, it might be the case that this just tipped the balance towards an energy deficit.
Weight loss can only happen if there is an energy deficit – a negative calorie balance. This happens when you eat less energy than your body needs in order to sustain itself and the lifestyle you lead.
In this case, by consuming 5 less pieces of fruit every day, Samuel has created a negative calorie balance. He has gone from consuming a couple of hundred calories more than he needs every day to consuming slightly less energy than he needs.
Energy balance is a fundamental law when it comes to losing weight. With this in mind was the fruit the problem? absolutely not – Samuel’s limiting factor was a positive energy balance.
For Samuel to tip the scale from steady weight gain and begin to see sustained weight loss he had to create a negative calorie balance, and by eliminating the fruit from his diet and not replacing it with any other foods, he managed to create this deficit.
This was by luck that the negative calorie balance was created, and now Samuel believes that it was fruit that was keeping him fat.
So what next?
Food Volume Is Important For Satisfaction
Because of the reduced food volume in Samuel’s diet he feels deprived and eventually seeks other sources of food. The calorie balance is tipped back and weight gain resumes. His new food choices are low nutrient and energy dense foods such as bagels and crisps. A similar number of calories from fruit would have provided more nutrients and volume from the fibre content, and so would be a better choice.
The biggest rock for him to move first would be one that addresses energy balance – food amount.
Since fruit can be considered to be nutrient dense, packed with vitamins and phyto-nutrients, as well as fibre and water content, fruit is quite high in volume and would provide Samuel with much greater appetite satisfaction when compared to the liquid calories that can quickly and easily be consumed through fizzy drinks, and calorie dense, nutrient sparse foods like jam filled bagels.
By swapping his soft drinks for water or fizzy water, Samuel could create that same calorie deficit as he did by dropping the fruit entirely, but he would maintain the volume of food and the nutrients from the fruit. With this single change which may be far more sustainable for Samuel, the same negative calorie balance is created with a far better outcome both in terms of adherence, but also in terms of health due to the nature of nutrient dense friut.
In this situation, keeping fruit in the diet would be great for weight loss. The challenge is knowing what changes to make first, and questioning blanket statements that we read in the media.
Smaller Rocks Next
For Samuel, his big rocks are about food amount. Due to his body composition and sedentary lifestyle Samuel’s needs are very different to Joanna.
When asked ‘how’s this working for me?’ Joanna can honestly look at her outcome in terms of health, performance and body composition and say ‘yeah, generally things are good, but I would like to be a little leaner and perform better at my sport’.
For Joanna, while food amount is certainly a factor, due to the level that she is currently at, her consistent eating habits and leaner body composition, she can consider moving smaller rocks – fine tuning.
With the question about eating fruit for weight loss in mind, let’s take a look at what changes Joanna might benefit from.
When it comes to weight loss, eating fruit is like a double edged sword. On the one hand fruit can add lots of nutritional value to your body, but on the other it might be wise to consider how much (food amount) and when (food timing) to eat fruit if your goal is to lose weight.
Once food amount is dialed in consistently – as was the biggest factor for Samuel – food type and timing can be considered as fine tuning as is the case for Joanna.
Since fruit can be considered to be a carbohydrate type food, Joanna might benefit from eating fruit during and immediately after vigorous exercise. At these times the energy from the fruit can be used by the body to fuel the exercise and to replenish depleted glycogen – stored energy in the muscle and liver cells.
This food timing might be a great consideration for Joanne, with positive outcome in terms of her recovery and performance in her chosen sport.
Eat Mainly Whole Foods
Once food amount has been addressed and you are consistently eating the right amount for your goal then eliminating deficiencies is a good next step.
One of the fundamental steps my coaching clients take is to work on including mainly whole foods in their diet.
If you are trying to lose weight, eating mainly whole foods is a very helpful step in your journey towards being lean and healthy.
Because foods that are nearer their natural state and less processed and will provide you with the building blocks that your body needs to live optimally.
Furthermore they are generally more voluminous and satiating, which is helpful when it comes to managing food amount and ensuring experiential satisfaction which is essential for long term change.
The goal for weight loss is to create a negative calorie balance with maximum satisfaction and as little discomfort as possible. You want to want to do this forever, otherwise you will stop.
Eating Fruit To Lose Weight
The last thing I want to do is give you a reason not to eat fruit, especially if eating a few portions a week would help you reach your goal of eating mainly whole foods.
You may have heard that fruit contains fructose and that sugar is bad if you’re trying to lose weight. The benefits of eating fruit lay in the natural state of the food.
Put into context, fruit is a ‘single ingredient food’, it has not been processed and there is nothing added to it. It is packed with fibre, micro nutrients vitamins and minerals and is high in water content and volume. This makes fruit a handy health snack and far outweighs fast food or most packets of bought foods.
Where the problems with fruit begin is when it is eaten to excess with the view to being healthy, detoxing, or slimming. Whether you eat yours fresh, juiced or pre-sliced from shops, don’t overdo it on fruit alone.
Fruit will be a lot more satisfying if eaten with a protein or fat based food, so in terms of appetite satisfaction it is a good idea to combine foods. For example a pear on its own would be less satisfying than a pear with some nuts and a tablespoon full of Greek yogurt.
If you enjoy fruit smoothies, in your smoothie maker try adding a couple of scoops of whey protein isolate powder or pea-and-rice protein powder to your drink, in addition to a dose of omega 3 fish oil liquid.
Including fat and protein will promote fat loss, slow down the food into the blood stream, and supply protective and repair elements to the body.
In addition to the effect fruit has on Ghrelin and hunger, excessive fructose can also speed up bowel movements, as well as contribute to the acid decay on teeth.
That said, fruits do have an net alkalising effect on the acid-base balance of the body which is essential to overall health and wellbeing.
In this respect eating fruit can be a helpful to counteract the over consumption of acid forming foods found in our diets.
How Much Fruit Should I Eat?
My advice is to consume fruit, and when you do so you would benefit most – not least in terms of appetite satisfaction – to include a portion of protein and fat with it.
If you’re already at lean body fat percentage or you train intensely and with purpose at least 4 times weekly, then focusing on your food timing would be a great next step.
Lean Body Composition:
- Women <19%
- Men <10%
If this describes you then a good time to eat fruit would be within 15 minutes of a workout such as a high intensity interval training session or resistance training session.
At this time your body is more ‘insulin sensitive’ which makes it a great time to profit from the carbohydrate found in fruit and replenish glycogen stores without adding to fat stores.
If however your goal is to lose weight and you are a long way off being classed as lean, you are mainly sedentary and your biggest limiting factor is food amount at this time, your time may not be well spent on nutrient timing.
In this case food amount and consistently eating the right amount is the goal – avoiding periods of restriction followed by periods of overcompensation from feeling too hungry.
In this case my recommendation would be to consume fruit as part of your main meal, especially if it helps you eat more ‘whole foods’.
Should I Eat Vegetables Or Fruit?
Whatever your goal is, vegetables will be your ally.
Considered to be nutrient dense and calorie sparse, often vegetables have an even higher nutritional value and a much lower effect on blood sugar than fruit.
By eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables which like fruit also have a net alkalizing effect in the body, also have a whole host of beneficial nutrients.
By providing fibre vegetables are extremely helpful for ensuring satiety, as well as providing vitamins, minerals – the nutrients the body needs to function optimally. Possibly most importantly for losing weight, vegetables are filling without adding many calories to your daily calorie intake.
What About The Sugar In Fruit?
The sugar in fruit is certainly a consideration.
If your goal is to lose body fat, try to aim for a fruit:vegetable ratio of 1:5 and if you are just maintaining health a ratio of 3:5 fruit to vegetables is fine.
In addition, it is suggested that you should limit your fructose intake to 25g daily. Use the table below to see what low-fructose fruits you can eat.
How Much Sugar Is In Fruit?
If you are keen to limit the amount of fructose – or any carbohydrate in your diet for that matter – then this list of fructose content in fruit may help you decide which fruit to eat depending on your goals.
Fructose Amount In Fruit:
- Limes 1 medium 0g
- Lemons 1 medium 0.6g
- Cranberries 1 cup 0.7g
- Passion fruit 1 medium 0.9g
- Prune 1 medium 1.2g
- Apricot 1 medium 1.3g
- Guava 2 medium 2.2g
- Date 1 medium 2.6g
- Cantaloupe 1/8 of med. melon 2.8g
- Raspberries 1 cup 3.0g
- Clementine 1 medium 3.4g
- Kiwifruit 1 medium 3.4g
- Blackberries 1 cup 3.5g
- Star fruit 1 medium 3.6g
- Cherries, sweet 10 3.8g
- Strawberries 1 cup 3.8g
- Cherries, sour 1 cup 4.0g
- Pineapple 1 slice (3.5″ x .75″) 4.0g
- Grapefruit 1/2 medium 4.3g
- Boysenberries 1 cup 4.6g
- Tangerine 1 medium 4.8g
- Nectarine 1 medium 5.4g
- Peach 1 medium 5.9g
- Orange (navel) 1 medium 6.1g
- Papaya 1/2 medium 6.3g
- Honeydew 1/8 of med. melon 6.7g
- Banana 1 medium 7.1g
- Blueberries 1 cup 7.4g
- Date (Medjool) 1 medium 7.7g
- Apple 1 medium 9.5g
- Persimmon 1 medium 10.6g
- Watermelon 1/16 med. melon 11.3g
- Pear 1 medium 11.8g
- Raisins 1/4 cup 12.3g
- Grapes, seedless 1 cup 12.4g
- Mango 1/2 medium 16.2g
- Apricots, dried 1 cup 16.4g
- Figs, dried 1 cup 23.0g
In conclusion, remember that both fruit and vegetables are good for you, and should not be neglected. However don’t over do it on the fruit, in particular from smoothies made at home or bought, and remember any hidden fructose or sugar content.
Depending on your goals, limit fructose consumption and take advantage of the characteristics of fruit by eating after exercise. And if you do eat it in your sedentary day, add protein and fat sources to the mix. Finally, be careful not to interpret this article as a reason not to eat fruit, because at the end of the day, any single-ingredient natural food is better for you than processed junk – fruit in its natural state is good for you.