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Don’t Give Up On Fruit Despite Bad Press On Fructose

One of the most frequently discussed subjects with my coaching clients revolves around whether or not fruits are ok for weight loss?

It’s funny to me just how much social norms change over time depending on what dominates the media. Early in my career the fear was all about fat in the diet.

Fat was bad, so all the experts said, so clients wanting to lose weight would look at me like I was the village idiot when I told them to stop eating low-fat and fat-free foods. “Hello, earth to Shane, I’m trying to lose weight here.”

“Yeah, that’s right and that’s exactly why we want you to eat natural foods with fat (with the fat intact) and not processed and refined garbage where the fat was removed and something else dumped in.”

While I don’t have as much trouble convincing people these days that fat in the diet can play a valuable role with weight loss, the new fat loss nemesis has seemingly become fruit.

Fruit contains fructose, and fructose is bad, therefore fruit is bad for weight loss.


More after the jump…

Once again the media has opened the door towards people fearing a God given natural food, just because it contains sugar.

Common sense should tell us fruits are not the root cause behind our obesity epidemic.

While there is a smart way and “not-so-smart” way to incorporate fruit in your diet (more on that in a minute), the bottom line is I’ve never met someone who became overweight by eating too many oranges.

Think about it…

Here’s why we have all this fear about fruit and fructose.

Sugar is the enemy, everyone’s got the memo by now. While this is partly true, not everything with sugar is created equal or reacts the same way in your body.

Sure an orange and a Snickers bar have pretty much the same TOTAL sugar content, but the composition of sugar is different and obviously so is the food in general.

Without getting into a whole dissertation about sugar (some other time for those who are really interested), let me cut to the chase on all of this.

Fructose is a monosaccharide sugar which is easily digested and assimilated by the body. The majority of complex carbohydrates (aka “starches) are polysaccharides which require more digestion and breakdown into smaller units of sugar called “glucose” for the body to use.

The main difference between glucose and fructose is how they’re metabolized in the liver. When fructose hits the liver it’s metabolized very quickly. The limiting factor is there’s only so much of the enzyme “fructokinase” in the liver that’s responsible for fructose metabolism.

Overload the liver and it simply adapts by just turning it into triglycerides (fat).

Make no mistake, lots of fructose in the diet is definitely not a good thing. The problem in general though is NOT fruit but rather increased consumption of processed foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

HFCS is produced from corn through hydrolysis of starch. The resulting glucose syrup is then isomerized to the sweeter high fructose corn syrup through the use of enzymes.

Alright, stop before I bore you to tears with these million dollar words.

Iso-mer….what? Did what to who?

I want you to step back and just use your common sense for a second. Trust me it will be enough to give you clarity. Forget about whatever compelling evidence some dude in a white coat and clipboard tells you.

You’ve got a piece of fruit….an all natural food made by God in His infinite wisdom. Packed full of life giving nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, you name it. Pretty sure that’s a winner.

Next we’ve got a sugar (HFCS) that’s been whipped up in a lab somewhere with man’s bright ideas.

Which one does your gut tell you might be posing the problem?

We’ve loaded up our foods with HFCS (which is either 42% or 55% fructose depending on how it was made), and seen a stark rise in obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, etc.

Once again fructose is bad, right?

No! By it’s very nature fructose is not bad as I’m quite confident God wouldn’t have included it in the oranges, apples, berries, etc, if it was.

The problem is where we’re getting it and how much we’re consuming. Quite simply we’re eating too much fructose because we’re eating too much processed and refined foods with HFCS.

While fruits do contain fructose, the amounts may surprise you.

Check out the chart below:

You’ll notice that a lot of the berries are between only 3-7 grams of fructose and with the exception of really sugary fruits, most everything is under 1o grams.

Remember, fruits are NOT 100% fructose. They contain a portion of fructose. The remainder is some combination of glucose and sucrose.

As you can see from the above chart, while an orange may be around 20-25 grams of total sugar, it’s only around 6 grams of fructose.

Guidelines for being smart with your fruits…

I get it that there will be those who are convinced fruits are bad for weight loss and no amount of reasoning on my part will convince them otherwise. From this point on I’m not talking to this crowd.

I respect your opinion, we’ll just agree to disagree and move on. Ok, for everyone else who has a hard time coming to grips that fruits could really be bad for weight loss, continue on with me.

Here’s the thing…

It all depends on how much you consume, when you consume them, and what the rest of your diet is like.

Fruits are composed of simple sugars which are readily digested and easily assimilated by the human body. Basically they’re nature’s perfect fuel. But keep in mind they still contain sugar.

We still have to deal with the issue of “enough is enough.”

Just because something is “healthy” doesn’t give you a pass to freely eat as much as you want in combination with other foods and not have consequences.

If you were to eating nothing but fruits (or perhaps fruits and vegetables) for a short period of time, say a few days, your body wouldn’t store a bit of fat. Why?

Because you’d be using up every last bit of that sugar for metabolic functions and energy.

However, let’s switch up the diet to also contain a bunch of grains and starches (breads, potatoes, rice, etc) along with some fats and protein.

Now what happens? We’re getting substrates for energy from the fruits, grains, starches, and fats.

How much is enough enters the equation. When you’ve got more sugar or fat than your body needs to meet energy demands you’re going to store the excess as fat.

This is one of the reasons why you see fruits included much more prevalently in Paleo type diets. When fruits are combined with lean proteins, greens, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, there’s much greater chance the sugars will be used for energy since there’s not much starch in the diet.

Not that you have to put yourself in a box and strictly follow one diet. I’m probably 80% Paleo and follow Primal Blueprint diet principals but still include some dairy and starches. You find what works best for you and roll with it.

The big picture is fruits can be incorporated into your diet (regardless of diet type) and you’ll still be able to lose weight.

You’ll simply have to consider how much and when they’re eaten.

If you’re going to be following a balanced type diet with variety from most all food groups, I’d recommend no more than a couple servings of fruit per day if you’re looking to lose weight.

You’ll have enough sugar from the starches and other carb sources that excess from fruits can limit fat loss in some situations (not all).

The best times to eat fruit are in the morning (my favorite) along with at snacks or meals that are naturally low in carbohydrate.

For example…

Let’s say you have lunch that consists of a grilled chicken breast and broccoli. There’s not a lot of carbs coming from the broccoli, or most other greens for that matter. In this case you’d be fine with having a bowl of berries for desert or an apple, etc.

This might not be the case had you also consumed a cup of rice at lunch as well. In this case you’d have enough sugar from the combined carbs with rice and broccoli that the fruit would only be excess.

When fruit can become overkill to sugar totals…

I use the following example all the time in my seminars. It comes from an actual experience I had working with a weight loss client. My client was eating a 6 inch Subway club at lunch pretty much every day and thought she was doing “good” because she quit eating cookies and started having a piece of fruit for dessert instead.

Oh, and yeah she quit eating the Doritos and went for Baked Lays instead.

By all practical purposes these really were positive and “good” changes. I made sure to tell her as much as it’s important not to bash moves in the right direction.

However, she was frustrated, very frustrated, with her inability to lose weight despite of all the “healthy” changes.

After all it was a low fat, low calorie sub with light chips and fruit.

What’s the problem, right?

Can you guess what was keeping her stuck in the plateau?

If you said SUGAR…winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Yes, even though we can make an argument that her diet had gotten healthier, “how much is enough” when it comes to sugar was still an issue to be dealt with.

This is why I’m so BIG on monitoring and tracking food choices in the early going. Not only does keeping a journal develop conscious awareness with eating, but it also helps to show just how much carbs, fats, etc, you’re getting at meals and snacks.

The bread alone in a 6″ Subway Club is enough carbs for most people at a single meal. The sandwich will come in at over 50 grams of carbs alone, before we even get to the chips or fruit.

By the time we added the sugar from the carbs in the chips and fruit we’re pushing over 75 grams of carbs!

This was all at one sitting. Let me put it to you this way. Unless you’re doing physical labor, or you’re an athlete, or have a really high metabolism, this is way more carbs than your body could even think about burning off shortly after lunch.

Is this starting to make sense?

Fruits eaten by themselves or in combination with lean proteins and/or veggies works well.

Fruits eaten on top of a meal or snack that consisted of lots of starch carbohydrates, not so much.

Likewise you wouldn’t want to consume a really high fat meal then dump fruit on top. The combination of high fat and sugars at the same time is a recipe to turn the fat storing switches on.

It all comes down to the matter of “enough being enough.”

Take in more sugar than you body needs and it’s going to store the excess, period.

If you’re following a diet that is naturally low in carbohydrates because you’ve minimized or eliminated starches from breads, grains, legumes, etc, then you can obviously increase your consumption of fruit.

As goes your starch and fat consumption there should be an inverse relationship to your fruit consumption. After all if fruit really was bad for weight loss because it contained fructose, then why aren’t raw-vegans who often consume a large portion of their energy from fruits, not overweight and obese?

Hello…hello…it’s your common sense calling. Go ahead and pick up.

I’m not trying to promote one type of diet over the other. Personally I believe in the virtues of variety and using your experience and insight to simply minimize or remove foods that don’t work well with your body.

At the end of the day I haven’t found many people to suffer allergen/irritant effects from fruits like a lot of people do from wheat gluten and lactose.

In short, I’d recommend getting in at least a couple servings of fruit each day. Even if that’s just with your fruit/green juice or smoothie in the morning.

Don’t quit on your fruit, your body will thank you for it.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Nutrition.