One look at the NHS Live Well guide, and you’d think we could make a habit of eating nothing but fruit all day and be the picture of health. They recommend at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruit each day, which could easily be reinterpreted to read “5 servings of vegetables or fruit” (and, frankly, leaving veggies off the plate entirely).
To most of our taste buds, this wouldn’t be so bad at all. Swapping pineapple for broccoli and kiwi fruit for kale would make dinnertime a little sweeter. But is it really a fair trade? Is fruit really as perfect for us as we’d like it to be?
Although fruit is a far superior choice to many other commercially available snack foods, and although it often has less sugar and more nutrients than other on-the-go options, there are several pitfalls of a high-fruit diet.
Your body doesn’t know when to stop – really!
Fructose is the only edible substance for which we lack an “off” switch. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense, as our bodies are designed to consume as much sugar and as many nutrients as possible. Fruit is high in both. Since our cave people selves didn’t know when the next fruit tree would come along, we never evolved to have a signal to tell us to stop eating it. You can literally eat it until you pass out, or get such a tummy ache, you have to stop. For this reason, excessive fruit consumption can deregulate appetite and cause us to eat not only more fruit, but more of everything else, particularly other sugary and starchy foods.
Too much fruit is risky for your blood sugar levels
When we consume sugars, the body sends out insulin, a hormone created in the pancreas that tells the cells to open up and take the sugar into the bloodstream. It encourages cells to store sugars and convert them to fat. The amount of insulin secreted is relative to the amount of sugar in the food: The more insulin, the more sugar cells will take in.
In a healthy system, sugar is placed in short-term storage and converted to energy soon after consumption to perform all kinds of internal functions. When we have tons of sugar coming in all the time — whether from processed foods or natural sources, like fruit — the body loses its ability to efficiently release and take up insulin. In other words, blood sugar remains constantly high, so insulin circulating in the body remains constantly high. The more insulin, the more sugar the cells will uptake. If they can’t use everything they take up, they will convert the sugar to fat.
Long story short? Excessive fruit consumption can lead to excess fat storage.
Sugar highs are real (dangerous) things
Similarly, fruit also provides a surprising amount of energy (read: calories), particularly when it has been dehydrated. Think about it, tt’s easy to eat six dehydrated mangoes without realising it, but try to eat six fresh ones and you’ll feel unwell much sooner.
Once this sugar is circulating in the body, it also increases cravings for more sugar. (Evolution again: Your brain says, “There must be sugar nearby! Go get more! It might run out!”) Because we live in a time when corn syrup, cane sugar and artificial sweeteners are always readily available, the chances of overdoing it on another source of sugar after consuming fruit is a very real thing.
Fruit won’t cut it when you’re exercising
Finally, if you’re participating in a lot of strength-building classes, a high-fruit diet doesn’t provide the balance you need to effectively restore and rebuild muscle cells. Primarily, this is because they lack protein, but also because their sugars are quickly digested and fail to provide you with the lasting refuel you need after an intense workout.
That said, fruit is a great source of fibre, which promotes healthy digestion. Fibre pulls water from the digestive tract and helps keep things moving along. Fruit also provides a healthy dose of carbohydrates, quickly accessible energy that the body loves especially right after a workout. It’s also really convenient, and when eaten in its natural form, can make for great on-the-go nourishment. Eating fruit instead of processed foods is a great choice, but swapping in a few more veggies in place of fruit can also be a great choice. Veggies like sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots can maintain your taste buds’ happiness with less blood sugar spikes and fewer cravings.
The takeaway? If you’re going to have fruit, be intentional about it. Aim to have fruit once or twice a day, and be conscious of what type you select. Is it in season? Does it grow near you? Is it tropical and packed with up to six times more sugar than other more temperate fruits? Your best bets will be things like berries, green apples and citrus fruits. Don’t forget some unusual fruits that make great substitutions: Cooked plantain can be an awesome swap for bananas, and high-fat, creamy fruits like coconut and avocado can provide a big boost of nutrition without a ton of sugar.
Amy is a holistic health coach, triathlete and yogi living in San Francisco. She shares healthy living ideas and plant-based, gluten-free recipes at fromthegroundupwellness.com. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.