September 19, 2021

Is Fruit Sugar Bad for You?

Are fruits bad for you? Is fruit sugar bad for you?

Fruit and sugar from fruit have become a little controversial lately. People ask me all of the time if eating fruit is healthy, or is fruit sugar bad for you? There is SO MUCH misinformation about food groups and whether they are good or bad for you. Let us be clear. As a dietitian who has spent several years studying nutrition, the answer to this question is a flat and resounding no! Eating fruit or sugar from fruit is not bad for you. Fruit contains so many different vitamins and minerals as well as fiber necessary for a balanced nutrient-dense diet. 

By eating fruit, you will be giving yourself the antioxidant protection that you need to fight off free radicals and also help prevent chronic diseases. Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day decreases the risk of coronary heart disease (1). The reason why we recommend consuming fruit on a daily basis is not because we are in cahoots with some farmers around the world. We recommend that you consume fruit because fruit is a nutrient-dense food!

If you’re worried about sugar content, don’t! Just don’t.

Should I say this louder for the people in the back?

Don’t worry about the sugar in fruit!

Fruits often have less sugar than processed foods because they have naturally occurring sugars instead of added sugars. There are also studies that indicate that even though there are natural sugars in fruit, they are SLOWLY metabolized which reduces spikes in blood glucose levels after eating. This is a pretty significant point in this discussion and if you’re curious, we will get into it in this blog post. If not, skip to the bottom and read the bottom line.

Various fruits- is fruit sugar bad for you

Sugar and Fruit

Fruit is delicious, nutritious, and part of a healthy diet. Fruit is full of essential vitamins and minerals that are important for the functioning of your body. Most importantly, however, fruits also taste great! Can you imagine if everything we ate had to taste bland in order to be healthy?! Ugh. Hard pass. 

But people often ask, is fruit sugar bad for you? Is it too much? Eating fruit is one way to get these nutrients in your day-to-day life. There are two forms of sugar present in fruit: fructose and glucose. How much of these types of sugars are present in fruit varies depending on the fruit, but more often than not there is about 50% of each in fruit. Glucose is massively important because of how our bodies utilize it for energy. The brain, for example, utilizes glucose as a major fuel source as it cannot use things like fat or protein because structurally, they are too big to get to the brain. Our central nervous system also has a high glucose demand. 

A little glucose 101 for you. Normal blood glucose levels are around 70 mg/dL to about 110 mg/dL. If we start dipping into 60 mg/dL of glucose in our blood, we begin feeling hungry, start sweating and trembling. Things take a turn for the worse if we reach below 40 mg/dL of glucose in our blood and we start having convulsions and potentially end up in a coma. I tell you folks all of this just to highlight the role that adequate glucose regulation has over our bodies. Glucose IS very important. Need a little refresher on glucose and carbs? Check this article out!

glucose meter

Back to fruits! As mentioned above, fruits contain glucose and fructose. Glucose is ushered into the body very differently compared to fructose. Fructose is metabolized by the liver and is not well absorbed by the GI tract when it is consumed by itself (2). Fructose has a hard time getting into most cells because it requires the help of a transporter (GLUT5) that most cells do not have. In addition, fructose within the liver skips a step that is usually very well-regulated and therefore, contributes to the formation of the backbone of triglycerides (3).

Here is the deal. Fructose has been an area of interest for many researchers because of its controversial findings of increased risk of development of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease (4). This is definitely concerning. However, the BIG difference is exactly WHERE we are getting the fructose from.

Fructose found in high-fructose corn syrup as an added sugar has been associated with some of these concerning scientific findings of increased risk of developing chronic diseases (5). Fructose from fruit has NOT. So before we all get our spikes and torches to protest fructose, we have to understand that when fructose is consumed from natural sources, like fruit, it has not been associated with these negative health outcomes. Is fruit sugar bad for you? No. The answer is no.

I hope this clears things up. I feel pretty defeated when doctors, yes DOCTORS, tell diabetic people to stop eating fruit because fructose is associated with diabetes. Can we please stop this? If your doctor tells you this, you let me know. I swear I will give your doctor a call to clear this confusion one fricking doctor at a time. Nothing lights a fire under me faster than hearing of healthcare providers scaring people away from nutrient-dense foods.

Ok, so besides the fructose debacle, why else should you not be scared of eating fruit?

 

Fruit contains Fiber

If you’re one of our clients, you KNOW fiber is massively important. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plants. It is the part of the plant that is indigestible by humans, but is important for health because it helps with glucose regulation (6,7) and prevents constipation. 

Fibers are classified as soluble or insoluble, depending on their solubility in water. Soluble fibers dissolve easily and help lower cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure; insoluble fibers do not dissolve well and help increase stool bulk to prevent constipation. Fruits contain both types of fiber in varying ratios. For example, apples have more soluble fiber than oranges, while oranges have more insoluble fiber than apples.

Let’s take a look at some high-fiber options:

-One medium apple (5 grams)

-One medium banana (3.1 grams)

-One medium orange (3 grams)

-One cup of whole strawberries (3 grams)

-One cup of blueberries (3.6 grams)

Fiber is more than your friend, fiber is your bestie. It will literally keep the crap out of your life– quite literally. Also, fiber is important for glucose regulation. So for those who try to scare you into thinking that fruit sugar is bad for you, you can remind them of the fiber factor that comes with the fruit sugar! Don’t listen to the Keto guys (or Whole30, or Paleo peeps), you eat your banana in peace! Your whole banana, not ½ banana. Take that, diet culture!

 

Fruit contains Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that is found in food and is essential for the normal function of nerves and muscles. It is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses, digestive function, normal heartbeat, blood pressure regulation, restoration of acid-base balance, and total body water balance. Need I go on?

But here is the sad news. Most people (around 98% of US Americans!) are NOT meeting their potassium intake recommendations (8). All the more reason to stop demonizing a whole food group that can help people meet their potassium recommended intake! So again, is fruit sugar bad for you (or fruit in general)? Nope, fruit is rich in potassium and fiber. 

Fruits high in potassium include bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi fruit, oranges, pears, tangerines. Ah! All the best! So again, eat your bananas in peace FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS!

 

Fruits and Vitamin C

There is a reason why when people get sick, they turn to oranges and orange juice. Fruits are a great source of many vitamins, but Vitamin C has its own cult following and there is a reason for this. Vitamin C is an important water soluble vitamin that plays several important roles in our bodies. 

  • Did you know that if you smoke you have higher Vitamin C needs? An added 35 mg/day to be exact. This is because Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant which functions to neutralize free radicals. As a smoker, your lungs are exposed to oxidants fairly frequently, so you need that Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin C is an electron donor, which means it helps regenerate Vitamin E and Iron. 
  • Vitamin C is needed for collagen formation.

Fruits that are high in Vitamin C are citrus fruits like oranges, kiwis, grapefruit, strawberries, and cantaloupe.

 

Does Fruit need to be Fresh for it to be healthy?

I think the better question here is: am I eating the whole fruit? Frozen, fresh, canned, or dried are all wonderful ways of getting your fruit intake. There is a difference if you are juicing your fruits as opposed to blending the whole fruit- and that difference is the fiber content. The fiber content also takes a hit (though not as hard of a hit as with juicing) when we make smoothies, which is why we recommend working in whole fruit even if you love smoothies (we do too! especially our beet smoothie and our island green smoothie). 

As discussed above, fiber is wonderful for slowing the uptake of glucose and keeping good blood sugar levels. Therefore, if there is a takeaway from this question is: eat the whole thing no matter what form it comes from.

frozen blueberries- is fruit sugar bad for you

OK, but how much Fruit is too much Fruit?

This is a great question. Although we can’t make individual recommendations here (if you would like to talk individual recommendations, you know where to find us), we CAN give you an idea of what other reputable diets and organizations recommend. In the case of fruits:

  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends eating 1.5-2 cup equivalents per day (9)
  • The MIND diet recommends consuming specifically berries >2 times per week (10)
  • The Mediterranean diet recommends ≥3 servings of fruit per day, consuming fruit at every meal (11)
  • The DASH diet recommends eating >4 servings of fruit per day (12)

 

As you can see, these recommendations vary slightly. Two key take away points here: 

1: none of these reputable sources say eating fruit is a bad idea and you should avoid them, and 

2: these are general recommendations. 

 

If you would like more specific recommendations on fruit for you individually, talk to a dietitian. Our diets vary day by day, and so will our fruit intake. We may change what kinds of fruits we eat depending on the season, financial situation, cultural backgrounds, emotional state, access to food, etc. Most people are NOT meeting their fruit intake recommendations, so we take any and all fruit wins and celebrate them! 

 

Conclusion

Do yourself a favor and eat your fruits. They are absolutely an important part of having a balanced nutrient-dense diet. It really is a disservice to demonize fruit like some fad diets have done because it makes people afraid to eat something so nutritious. So my friends, eat your fruit and be happy. 

 

Bottom line: Is fruit sugar bad for you? The sugar in fruit is not something we need to be concerned with. Fruits are wonderful sources of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. And remember, if your doctor tells you something weird about unhealthy fruits, you let me know! I WILL call them! Cheers to you and your favorite fruits!

References

  1. George A Bray, How bad is fructose?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 86, Issue 4, October 2007, Pages 895–896, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/86.4.895
  2. Havel PJ. Dietary fructose: implications for dysregulation of energy homeostasis and lipid/carbohydrate metabolism. Nutr Rev 2005;63:13357.
  3. Nakagawa T, Hu H, Zharikov S, et al. .A causal role for uric acid in fructose-induced metabolic syndrome. Am J Physiol (Renal Physiol) 2006;290:F625–31.
  4. Stanhope KL, Schwarz JM, Havel PJ. Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2013 Jun;24(3):198-206. doi: 10.1097/MOL.0b013e3283613bca. PMID: 23594708; PMCID: PMC4251462.
  5. Brouns, F., Bjorck, I., Frayn, K., Gibbs, A., Lang, V., Slama, G., & Wolever, T. (2005). Glycaemic index methodology. Nutrition Research Reviews, 18(1), 145-171. doi:10.1079/NRR2005100
  6. Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Xu CF. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Dec 28;18(48):7378-83. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378. PMID: 23326148; PMCID: PMC3544045.
  7. Cogswell ME, Zhang Z, Carriquiry AL, Gunn JP, Kuklina EV, Saydah SH, Yang Q, Moshfegh AJ. Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003-2008. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Sep;96(3):647-57. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.034413. Epub 2012 Aug 1. PMID: 22854410; PMCID: PMC3417219.
  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov. 
  9. Cherian, L, Wang, Y, Fakuda, K, Leurgans, S, Aggarwal, N, Morris, M. Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet slows cognitive decline after stroke. J Prev Alzheimers Disease. 2019; (6)4: 267-273. Doi: 10.14283/jpad.2019.28. 
  10. Davis, C, Bryan, J, Hodgson, J, Murphy, K. Review: Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A literature Review. Nutrients. 2015; 7, 9139-9153. Doi: 10.3390/nu7115459
  11. DASH Eating Plan | NHLBI, NIH. (2021). Retrieved September 2021, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan

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I am a Registered Dietitian (RD) based in Chicago, IL. I have worked in various clinical settings including dialysis, ICU, and NICU. I am bilingual and have had the pleasure to work with many Spanish/Spanglish speaking individuals.
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