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Can Fruit Make You Gain Fat?

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It can be difficult to keep up to date with changes to dietary advice. One week a food is classed as healthy, then the next week it on the list of foods to avoid.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables has always been associated with health and vitality. But recently it has been reported that eating fruit might contribute to weight gain.

Some even suggest that you need to completely avoid fruit – it’s full of sugar, and that will cause weight gain? 

Where does this reasoning come from, and is it correct? Is it really your apple a day that is hiding your six-pack?

In this article we’ll take a look.


Fruit and Fructose

Fruit is the fleshy, seed-bearing structure given to us from the ovary of flowering plants. It comes in a variety of colors, shapes and tastes. Apples, bananas, oranges are amongst the most commonly eaten fruits, but everyone has their own favorites.

The number of fruits available is massive. There are even a number of foods that are classed as fruits, even though you may not immediately consider them to be – tomatoes, avocados, chili peppers and pumpkin to name just a few. Although botanically fruits, for the purpose of this article we’ll keep it simple – we’re referring to more traditional, sweet fruits that are soft, colorful and summery.

Fruit is made up from mostly water but is also high in fiber and vitamin C. The carbohydrate content comes specifically from a type of sugar called fructose.

Although each type of fruit has its own nutritional profile, they all contain antioxidants and minerals that promote health and well-being. The specific nutrients in each fruit is dependent on its color – each phytochemical provides a different health benefit and gives the food its distinctive color.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is strongly associated with reduced risk of diseases, particularly diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.

Fruit makes up a relatively large proportion of our diet – more so now than in the past. From the onset of the 1900s, we only ate around 15 grams of fruit sugar a day – today we eat as much as five times that amount – from not only whole fruit, but fruit punches, sodas and other foods too.

The way you digest fructose is different to other types of sugars such as glucose. Whereas every cell in your body can use glucose as an energy source, only cells in the liver can use fruit sugar.

When fructose enters the liver it sets off a number of chemical reactions that can lead to the storage of triglycerides – particularly if eaten in excess.

This can cause an increase in fatty liver tissue, which can lead to insulin resistance, increased blood pressure and elevated LDL cholesterol. The changes to metabolism have also been blamed for weight gain and belly fat.

But can fruit sugar really make you fat? Let’s have a look at what the research says…


fructose-and-weight-gain

Key Point: Fruit contains a type of sugar called fructose. It can only be broken down in the liver.


Fructose and Weight Gain

There are some studies that show fructose can cause fat gain and disturb metabolism. A review paper in Nutrition & Metabolism for example [1] reported that an increase in carbohydrates and fructose correlates positively to insulin resistance, high cholesterol and weight gain. 

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a common sweetener that contains 55-90% fructose. Found in soft drinks and juices, as well as some breakfast cereals and baked goods. It is a way of getting a concentrated amount of fruit sugar into a food produce in order to make it taste more attractive.

As this sweetener is in so many foods, consumption of fructose has increased by over 1000% since the 1970s – we now consume a whopping 62.4 pounds a year [2]. 

One large systematic review for example [3] reported a positive association between fructose-sweetened drinks and weight gain in both children and adults. A similar study found that women who consumed 1 or more soft drink or fruit punch put over 10 pounds of weight on over a 4-year period [4]. 

You’ll struggle to find research that has looked at just fruit intake though – at present it all relates to fructose drinks.


fruit-and-diabetes

Key Point: Sweetened drinks which are high in fructose can cause weight gain. These drinks contain a more concentrated amount of fructose than whole fruit.


So Does Fruit Make You Fat?

Ultimately, weight gain is called by too many calories in the diet – a positive energy balance. Although there is fructose in whole fruits, the high volume of water, fiber and nutrients means it can be difficult to overeat it – not impossible, but difficult.

There is however much higher amount of fructose in drinks in comparison to natural, whole fruit. By over-consuming these it is much easier to take on board too many calories. This can lead to weight gain.

What is still questionable though is whether the weight gain is caused specifically by the fructose or just the overall amount of calories.

The way that fructose digests through the liver means you don’t want too much in your diet. There may well be a connection to weight gain when eaten in excess. However all of the research so far has looked at concentrated amounts such as from HFCS. Whole fruit has nowhere as much in it.

If you just eat whole fruits in moderation, this is outweighed by the benefits of the water and nutrients you’ll get.


Berries-for-Fat-Loss

Tips to Enjoy Fruit Without Weight Gain

Eat more berries –

These are lower in calories than fruits such as bananas. They have a concentrated density of ellagic acid and phytochemicals that don’t increase insulin like other fruits. This makes them a perfect sweet treat.

Enjoy in moderation –

Any food eaten in excess can cause weight gain so it is important to be practical about not only what you eat, but how much as well. 1-2 pieces of fruit per day is absolutely fine. Make sure you vary the type of fruit to maximize phytochemical nutrient content.

Avoid or limit fruit juices –

Whole fruits are higher in fiber and better fir gut health. Juices can have a bigger effect on blood sugar. A glass of orange juice for example contains as many as 10 oranges.

Moderate fruit intake if you are diabetic –

Focusing on lower glycemic index fruits that will maintain blood sugar is key. There’s no need to eliminate fruit altogether but try not to over-consume fruits like raisins, watermelon and grapes that can rapidly increase blood sugar.


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References

  1. Basciano, H et al. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia. Nutr Metab (London). 2005; 2(5)
  2. Putnam J. Economic Research Service. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture; 1999. Food consumption, prices, and expenditures, 1970–91
  3. Malik, VS et al. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006; 84(2): 274-288
  4. Schulze, MB et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA. 2004; 292: 927–34


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