It’s true—Ayurveda suggests that fruit should be eaten alone.
That said, this is more of a guideline than a strict rule. Let me explain…
If we think in terms of an ancestral diet, where we naturally ate seasonally and geographically, we would all be eating much differently than we do today. This is the main reason why I advocate for a three-season diet.
In nature, the microbes in the soil change from one season to the next. A seasonal diet ensures that the spring soil microbial surge ends up re-populating our guts with the right bugs we need in each season. (1)
Fruits are generally harvested in the fall, as part of nature’s preparation for winter. Depending on how sweet the fruit is, they generally are rich in fructose, or what is commonly called fruit-sugar. Fruits also have glucose and sucrose at varying proportions depending on the fruit.
A Quick Fruit-Sugar Review.
Fructose and glucose are simple sugars or monosaccharides, and both are found in fruits.
Sucrose, or common table sugar, is also found in fruit. It is a disaccharide, which means two simple sugars combined: fructose and glucose.
An apple, for example, has a total sugar content of 13.3 grams. It also has 2.3 grams of pure glucose and 7.7 grams of pure fructose. It also has 3.3 grams of sucrose, which, remember, is a combination of glucose and fructose. Because some of the sucrose content is actually fructose, the total fructose content in the apple is 9.3 grams. (2)
Not All Fruits are Created Equally.
Sucrase, a digestive enzyme secreted in the small intestine, breaks down the fruit sucrose into simple sugars, fructose and glucose. While glucose, the body’s main fuel supply, absorbs directly into the bloodstream, fructose requires processing through the liver and delivers energy much more slowly than glucose.
In fact, when a meal of glucose, fructose, and sucrose are eaten at the same time, the glucose will be quickly delivered as energy. By the time the fructose is processed through the liver, the energy needs have often already been met by the glucose, and the excess fructose is simply stored as fat.
This is, in part, why fruits are so perfectly harvested at the end of fall. Bears gorge on fruits in order to overshoot the energy-need runway, and the extra is stored as winter insulation or fat.
So remember, the next time you eat some fruit with your granola, the granola will be quickly broken down into glucose, and the fructose portion of the fruit will be stored as fat. If you were to eat fruit all by itself, it would deliver a slow, lasting burn of energy, and little or none would be stored as fat, depending on your energy needs.
This explains the reason why Ayurveda says to eat fruit alone. If we eat fruit with other foods, the foods will digest at different speeds. Not only will the risk of fat-storing ensue, but there is a risk of indigestion as well. This was the premise of the food-combining philosophies. Sugar breaks down faster than many other slow-burning foods, and when combined, they can cause gas, bloat, or indigestion.
The sweeter the fruit, the more challenging it is to digest fruit with other foods. Berries, bitter apples, and less sweet fruits can generally be digested in combination with other foods without a noticeable digestive issue.
Ancestral diets would likely have adhered to the “fruit alone” rule; if you stumbled on a ripe apple tree or blueberry bush, you would stay and eat until you were full—eating the fruit meal all by itself.
A breakfast or supper of fruit is a healthy meal, although most of us do not have the digestive efficiency to make a meal of fruit last all the way from breakfast to lunch, or from supper to breakfast. When we begin to eat these fruits in season, we may find it easier to make a fruit meal last energy-wise.
- Have fruit as a meal during the warmer months of the year.
- Have fruit as a snack when the meal was not enough.
- Save the less sweet fruits to have with meals.
- Save the sweeter fruits to have as a meal.
Side note: Let’s not obsess. When comparing eating fruits with a meal to the really bad things we may eat, having some fruit with a meal is a minor offense in the big picture.
Perhaps more importantly, we must avoid or reduce:
- Added sweeteners.
- Processed foods.
- Cooked vegetable oils.
- Pesticides and herbicides on conventional foods.
1. Soil Biol Biochem. 2013 May; 60: 95–104. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2013.01.025. PMCID: PMC3618437
Author: Dr. John Douillard
Image: Mike Dorner/Unsplash
Editor: Emily Bartran