Can Fruit Make Us Fat?

Via on Apr 19, 2013

Girl with short hair eating a ripe juicy watermelon

By now, most folks are aware that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was a bad idea for a country suffering from an obesity epidemic.

Even the food industry has gotten the memo loud and clear, and the HFCS in soft drinks and sweetened comfort foods is being replaced by cane sugar.

What many of us don’t know is that the fructose in HFCS has the same fructose that’s in your fresh-squeezed fruit juice.

But fruit is good for you, right?

Of course, it is undeniable that fruits contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can be very protective as part of a balanced, whole foods diet. What goes unmentioned is that too much fruit can wreak havoc on blood sugar and can undermine efforts to maintain a healthy weight.

I know it is hard to believe, but fruits can make you fat!

Join me as I discuss the Ayurvedic perspective on fruit, and the research behind the top 10 reasons to avoid too much fructose.

Fruits in Nature

In nature, fruit trees are a treat and there is heavy competition for that fruit. When I was a kid, we had two cherry trees. Every year, they produced a lot of cherries. Yet in all the years growing up with a cherry tree in my backyard, I never ate one cherry. As soon as they were ripe, the birds ate every last one so fast that we never had a chance!

Orchards of apples, oranges, bananas and other fruits, all loaded with fructose, didn’t exist until we created them.

In fact, in one study it was reported that throughout human history we ate about 15 grams of fructose from fruits and veggies a day, Orchard with red appleswhich amounts to about three ounces. In 1987, it was estimated that humans consume about 81 grams of fructose per day—that’s nine times more fruit.

So, what’s the traditional role of fruits in nature?

In the late summer and fall, when fruits are most abundant, bears and other animals gorge on them in an attempt to store an insulating layer of fat for the winter. The sweetest, highest-in-fructose fruits were traditionally harvested in the fall as the perfect food to help the animals prepare for winter.

Even nowadays, most of the very sweet fruits are still harvested in the fall. I say “still” because most fruits have been hybridized to be bigger, sweeter, and harvested at a more commercially convenient time. As a side effect, all of the hybridizing has raised the glycemic load of fruits way beyond what it was originally.

Even with these industrial changes, I wonder if the sweetest fruits are best used seasonally to help build insulation before winter and with caution at every other time of year.

Sugar as Energy: Glucose, Fructose and Sucrose

Table Sugar

Glucose and fructose are two types of simple sugars. Glucose is the form of sugar that is used for energy by the cells. Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized completely differently, and is not nearly as efficient a source of energy as glucose.

Regular table sugar, called sucrose, is made up of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. In the gut, an enzyme called sucrase breaks sucrose down into fructose and glucose. Because sucrose has to be broken down before it enters the bloodstream, it takes a little longer for it to affect the blood sugar.

Glucose and fructose, on the other hand, are simple sugars and do not require an enzyme for absorption, so they move directly into the blood, creating a more immediate spike in the blood sugar.

What got HFCS into trouble in the first place was that it was super concentrated fructose, delivering a whopping 80 percent fructose and only 20 percent glucose.

The body is designed to get energy primarily from glucose and very little from fructose. Glucose in healthy doses is quickly used by the body to make energy. Fructose, on the other hand, is quickly stored by the liver to be used for energy when needed in the future. The cells’ mitochondria, the brain and the muscles all need glucose—not fructose—to function.

Healthy sources of glucose include whole grains, vegetables, legumes and smaller amounts of fruit.

10 Reasons to Limit Fructose in Your Diet

1.    Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. It is not readily used for energy by your body’s cells. It takes a long time for the body to convert fructose into energy and, moreover, it can interfere with glucose metabolism, which is the body’s preferred energy source (1).

2.    Bears gorge on fruits in the fall to store fat for the cold and dry winter. Unlike glucose, the liver converts the fructose directly into fat and can lead to excess fat, obesity and lipoproteins in the body (1).

3.    Excess fructose can raise triglycerides and increases the risk of arterial damage and cardiovascular disease. Fructose will increase the bad cholesterol that deposits fat in the cells and will decrease the good cholesterol that removes bad fats from the blood and cells. This can lead to plaque building up in the arteries and the heart (2).

4.    Fructose sticks to proteins and fats in our bodies 10 times more than glucose (3). This is called glycation and creates something called AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-products). AGE’s are responsible for much of the body’s inflammation and degeneration. They are also linked to hypertension, dementia, insulin resistance, and diabetes complications.

Glycation is a process of proteins and fats sticking to excess sugar in the blood. The proteins that they are most likely to bond with are collagen and elastin. These are the two proteins responsible for healthy radiant skin. When the skin that lines the gut, your arteries and respiratory tract begins to wrinkle, it is just a matter of time before the skin on the outside of the body thins and wrinkles as well.

5.    Excess fructose will turn to fat and congest the liver, causing a condition called non alcoholic fatty liver (4). This is a condition that affects 20-30 percent of the adult population and is directly linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and metabolic syndrome (see below).

Non alcoholic fatty liver was two to three times more prevalent with fructose consumption than with non-fructose controls (4). In fact, fructose has the same effect on the liver as alcohol (ethanol), which is already well known as a liver toxin (7).

6.    Fructose is linked to hypertension (5). Hypertension is part of a group of symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome (see below). Excess fructose inhibits an enzyme that manufactures nitric oxide in the arteries (5). Nitric oxide is a natural dilator for the arteries and is critical for healthy arteries and the prevention of coronary artery disease.

7.    Excess fructose in the diet is linked to increased risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of the following (1):

  • High Blood Sugar
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Abdominal Fat—linked to obesity
  • High Cholesterol

Metabolic syndrome can lead to:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart Disease
  • Dementia
  • Cancer and more

8.    Excess fructose leads to insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes or prediabetes (4).

9.    Too much fructose rapidly causes leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that controls appetite and metabolism to maintain a normal weight. Leptin-resistant people tend to gain fat and become obese much easier than those who are not leptin resistant (7).

10.    While most of your body’s cells can’t use fructose as a source of energy, undesirable in the gut can use fructose to proliferate (7). Cancer cells can also feed on fructose (7).

In Conclusion: The Skinny on Fruit

There is no question that whole foods including fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains are all part of a healthy and balanced diet. The issue here is the excess of sucrose and fructose in a modern diet. This excess has caused an epidemic of the blood sugars and diabetes around the world. I am a fan of self-monitoring blood sugar levels so you can get daily feedback regarding your diet and lifestyle. Like most health issues, early detection of a rising blood sugar issue is key, and will then guide how much or how little fructose or sucrose we should ingest.

If your blood sugar is in the healthy range (between 70 and 85 mg/dl), one to two fruits a day is fine, as long as they are seasonal. Reserve the really super-ripe and sweet fruits for the fall, when the body is naturally trying to insulate for winter.

Avoid dried fruit and fruit juices and opt for the whole, fresh fruit to make sure you have plenty of fiber from the pulp of the fruit to buffer the glycemic load in the body.

If your blood sugars are climbing above 85 mg/dl, more awareness around fruit consumption is necessary. I recommend using the least sweet fruits sparingly and avoiding very sweet fruits like grapes, bananas, sweet cherries, mangoes, pears and kiwi altogether until your sugars stabilize. Please refer to the Sugar Content of Fruit chart below.

Sugar Content of Fruits (Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose sugars per 100 grams)Sugar-Content-of-Fruits-Table_April2013

 

References
0.    Basciano H. Fructose, Insulin Resistence. Nutri Metab (London) Feb 2005.
1.    Tokita Y. Fructose Ingestion enhances atheroslerosis. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2005
2.    Gaby A. Adverse effects of dietary fructose. Alt Med Review. 2005. Dec
3.    Ouyang X. Fructose consumption is a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver. J Hepatol. 2008 June
4.    Plante GE. Reduction of endothelial NOS. Cardiovascular Research. 2003 Oct.
5.    Taylor EN. FRuctose consumption and the risk of kidney stones. Kidney Int. 2008 Jan
6.     Paleodietlifestyle.com

All photos courtesy of lifespa.com

 

 

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Ed: Brianna Bemel

About Dr. John Douillard, DC

Dr. John Douillard, DC has been practicing and teaching Ayurveda since 1988. He is the founder, owner and practitioner at John Douillard's LifeSpa. He regularly lectures worldwide and is a faculty member at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. To sign up to receive his free, weekly video-newsletters right in your inbox, along with exclusive discounts on Lifespa's organic herbal supplements and skin care products, visit lifespa.com. John's book, The 3-Season Diet, discusses the very simple and profound Ayurvedic principle of eating more foods in their appropriate season. Ready to plan for a spring cleanse? Check out Dr. Douillard's Colorado Cleanse, a two week at-home detox plan designed to reset digestion, restore balance, and body/mind well being.

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27 Responses to “Can Fruit Make Us Fat?”

  1. yogajanet says:

    It is so nice to have the luxury to be able to analyze our food choices so in depth and be able to cast an entire food group aside and relegate it to be unhealthy. There are so many in the world who don't have that choice or ability and are still living hand to mouth.

    • Brittany says:

      I am so with you… If every food was analysed to warn you of all the negative aspects, disregarding the good it does, there would be NO "good" foods out there.

  2. Abi says:

    With you there, yogajanet. It’s just the latest nonsense, they’ll be saying the opposite at some point!

  3. Anna says:

    I agree with Janet and Abi, this is complete nonsensical blabber. I can't believe that elephantjournal would even allow this to be published. I thought this was a reputable website.

  4. Dom says:

    great article. more people should know about this

  5. missbernklau says:

    While it may be true if you engorge yourself on fruit (or pretty much any other thing you can put in your mouth) it would have an adverse effect, I'm sure Americans and most people that have any sort of blood sugar issue are not experiencing problems because they eat too much fruit. If it isn't genetic, it's probably because they eat too much processed crap. Maybe if there were no such thing as processed sweets, then too much fruit would be the problem…but that's not the case. If anything, eating more fruit for most Americans is probably a step in the right direction. Of course, my opinion is based entirely off of anecdotal evidence. My friends and family whom happen to be diabetic and/or obese did not get that way from eating too much fruit, if anything it came from eating too many complex carbs, fast food, and no vegetables (unless smothered in butter) and of course drinking beer or soda and absolutely NO water doesn't help…and I know most Americans don't drink water with meals, they drink something sweet and/or with alcohol.

    The title of the article is just sensationalist and slightly misleading, but, hey, these are blog writers trying to get followers, I get it. They aren't doing anything "wrong", just, trying to get readership. That's the point of a headline. If the headline said "Fruits: Good for you but if you eat way too much of the high-in-sugar/fructose fruits, you may be getting too much fructose when you need more glucose instead! Opt for less-sweeter fruits." It wouldn't get too many reads. However, the problem with titles and articles like this is that many people don't examine any further (either because of lack of time or interest) and just accept it to be the truth because, hey, the guy who wrote it has "Dr." at the front of his name so it MUST be true.

    I appreciate the information but please be mindful of how you present it.

    • missbernklau says:

      Alternative headline: "Know Your Fruits: Manage Your Fructose vs. Glucose Intake." Or something to that effect. The gist of the article is all there, and it's a quick, non-misleading headline.

      • Siobhan Gray says:

        I like this idea.
        I'm also fascinated by how angry people get when you take away their sugar.
        While I can see how fruit is so much better than processed sugar and in moderation can be of great benefit (and yogajanet, I hear what you are saying as well, so many people just doing what they can), as a health coach I see how many of us abuse fruit because we are addicted to sugar and on a constant blood sugar roller coaster that is perpetuated by excess fruit consumption.
        This is worth examining for ourselves.
        I think it's one thing to eat "healthy enough," like the "good enough" parenting theory. Coming from a place of wanting to eat "healthy enough," I can see how this article can be provocative. But for folks who want to go a little deeper into the details of how different foods affect us physiologically and otherwise, i think this is invaluable information. Thanks, Dr. D.

    • Shawna Leigh says:

      Completely agree with this. Also, the way in which this article is entitled and presented is bound to give someone with food sensitivities and food complexes (eating disorders) even more reason to leave out some very essential nutrients, not the wisest choice in words and presentation.

  6. Cat Hanson says:

    I think we can use fruits to substitute candy when we have sweet tooth; it's much better than munching on say' a bar of sneakers for sure. But it shouldn't be the only thing to eat when trying to lose weight. Many girls still don't get that right!

  7. NotVeryLoud says:

    The palpable anger towards this article is interesting. One might think the commenters worked for United Fruit Co.
    I can see being suspect of something that doesn't fit into your mindset of how the world is/should be, but declaring it "nonsensicale blabber" Really? The author included references to support his claims, is that worth nothing?

    I've had several family members who've been prescribed by their doctor to avoid fruit due to the sugar content. Admittedly, I've always been baffled as to why anyone would recommend not eating fresh fruit. I would ask, "Isn't the sugar in fruit 'good' sugar?" And they would reply, "It's still sugar." I would usually accept that I didn't know enough about the types of sugars and their effects on the body. For me, this article shed some light on the subject. I'll be checking out the references and making additional judgments call based on that.

  8. missbernklau says:

    Yeah this was definitely not "non-sensical" or without value (actually it's quite valuable information, the chart breaking down the sugar content of different fruits is great!). I take issue with it being a misleading headline. I work for Institute for Integrative Nutrition (I'm a graphic designer) and I'm learning a lot in my short time here about "bio-individuality" and how just incorporating more vegetables, water, and fruit in your diet makes a huge, HUGE difference. Most people are not eating ANY vegetables OR fruit and are mostly eating prepared food from a box or a restaurant. Yes, fruit in excess is no good, but I'm pretty positive that's not why many Americans are having trouble losing weight and/or experiencing diabetic or blood-sugar spikes and crashes, and that fact was not addressed here.

    Also, for the record, I'm not a sweet-tooth, I actually have a problem with salt cravings if anything, so, I'm not "upset" that "my sugar" is being "taken away" by any stretch of the imagination. I'm annoyed that there are so many articles that have headlines that are meant to freak people out when there's no reason to freak out about eating "too much" fruit when that is more than likely NOT the root of most American's weight problems.

  9. missbernklau says:

    *experiencing diabetic symptoms (I didn't complete that sentence oops)

  10. Olga says:

    If your health guru tells you to drop fruit because it has too much sugar, you should drop your guru. Facts are twisted and straight up wrong! GO FRUIT YOURSELF!

  11. Gaiadance says:

    So surprised by many individuals reactions to a very informative article . The author’s view did not to me seem sensationalist nor did I detect any motive other than caring . The research seems thorough , complete, and well balanced . For me the pre -industrial historical perspective was enlightening !
    ,a “why didn’t I think of that before ” moment .
    (refrigeration,global transport,supermarkets etc are only 100+ years old)
    Oh how easy it is to forget .
    The attempt to process my flabbergastion of others not seeing the sense in this well intentioned distribution of scientific knowledge has thus far considered that maybe these folks are threatened by the possible need to grow into a new manifestation of themselves.. My own experience has shown me a change is as good as a holiday !

  12. Gaiadance says:

    Dear Olga,
    In respect for the effort shown by the author to inform and assist compassionately to the well being of human health ,

    You may like to read again the articles conclusion ,
    …, which encourages ! ,the ‘intelligent’ conconsumption of whole fruit and gives scientific data so that one can discerningly ‘choose’ which fruits might be more or less advantageous to keeping healthy blood sugar levels .
    “may you make gastro love to your next piece of locally grown ,seasonal organic whole fruit , dear friend , honoring it for the wonderful gift it truely is “

  13. Louis says:

    I always respect the opinion of experts in a given field but sometimes as is the case with this article, common sense must prevail. I don’t dispute that fruit have varying levels of sugar and I don’t deny that too high blood sugar levels may lead to increased storage of fat. However, in the list of all the items that are bad for you nutritionally and lead to weight gain, eating too much fruit has got to be at the bottom of an extremely long list.

  14. Kate Southward says:

    Yes excess fructose (NOT FRUIT!!) may cause metabolic syndrome, diabetes, insulin resistance etc
    What a sensationalist, ill informed article.

  15. Gaiadance says:

    Still surprised by the judgement here Kate ,
    Maybe I read this article differently to others .
    Not being a sensationalist ,i dont see sensationalism !
    Maybe because I regularly read Dr John Douillard’s articles and give him credit for being unlike other pill pushing Quacks .
    I have valued over time ,his articulate discernment without judgement on many issues .
    I find him to be professional in all manner of distributing information .. And yes because his web site is for those who are passionate about fine tuning their bodies and minds for optimum performance , he doesn’t seem to hold back on the finer details . Integrating ancient knowledge and awareness held in the living body of ‘ayur Veda’ with contempory research and scientific discovery , I reckon he does a sterling job !
    Now if I was reading this article as if in a mainstream women’s (matter of fact )
    Magazine , I might see this information as a little bit picky or even OTT.
    But it’s not , this article is in The elephant journal , which promotes the distribution of information on Yoga,health,wellness, foodetc ,and this author is a ‘Yoga Doctor’ !!!!.
    I’ve gone over and proof read his writing for any hint of sensationalism and /or judgment, .. And in my assessment , he comes out squeeky clean !.
    Clear and concise ! …… Please re-read “the conclusion skinny on fruit”
    Where Dr Douillard emphasises the value of whole fruit in a diet ,and gives clear nutritional medical advise for anyone who has difficulty keeping blood sugar where it needs to be for optimum performance !
    I read From this ..for me to carry a healthy sense of potential caution with hi-sweet fruits out of season ,and got mental images of 3and4 litre pasteurized apple base ‘pure’ fruit juices lining the supermarket shelves (sold as a healthy alt’ to Pop ) ,which I now see the masses consuming like water .
    Thanks for the heads up John!

  16. Gaiadance says:

    Last comment -

    just noticed the title ….. A humble question! …Yes?
    “can fruit make us fat ?”

    Wouldn’t ‘Sensationalist’ read ?
    “fruit makes us fat ! “. ….?

    Justsayin brothers and sisters ..I’m gonna stick with keeping the ‘Quest I on’ alive and kickin
    And avoid the death of judgement .
    Seeyas out there

    SmilesAllWays

  17. unicorn man says:

    this article is factual and informative, yes fruit is the desert of the healthy diet. should be eaten selectively and definitely not as a diet staple. fruit is a garnish and an excellent accompaniment to other foods. I am very surprised at the anger also by some readers. organic greens, whole grains, clean water, legumes, susatainable wild fish. home grown vegetables, with one small serving of fruit a day is diet that leads to health.

  18. elder care says:

    Omg! Extremely worthwhile post. I am storing this site as soon as possible. Gratitude!

  19. Lyn Ashby says:

    This is a good read! You are absolutely right that it is better to be smart about what you eat! Thank you for sharing!

  20. Sally says:

    Interesting article. Obviously too much of anything is not good by definition. However, it seems that getting too much fructose from fruit would require eating a very large amount of fruit. The article admittedly states "…opt for the whole, fresh fruit to make sure you have plenty of fiber from the pulp of the fruit to buffer the glycemic load in the body." If you eat so much fruit that you get too much fructose, then how much fiber would you be getting buffering your glycemic load? I think it is likely that the problem with fructose is the concentrations of HFCS in sugary drinks, candies, pastries, etc. rather than the fructose available in fruits. Dr. D even supports this idea with this statement: "What got HFCS into trouble in the first place was that it was super concentrated fructose." Fruit does not contain HFCS, right? It seems that what's important is avoiding foods with a lot of HFCS, not fruit.

  21. Christin says:

    Wow! This is undoubtedly good article. Of course, very helpful. I like it. Thanks a lot.

  22. ... says:

    LIES! All Lies! Fruit cant make you fat, meat and sugarcane makes you fat! (especially when with pore digestion!) Fruit is very good for you and healthy, and if you DONT eat it, you will have a very unhappy life. These are all LIES!

  23. Siobhan Gray says:

    Really? You thought this was a reputable website? Well, therein the problem lies.

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