In our last post about alcohol, we covered the last of the non-controversial steps towards fat loss. Nobody’s going to argue about paying attention to your sugar, refined carbohydrate or alcohol intake when watching your waistline or managing your health generally. Hopefully these articles helped to clarify why each of these types of food is important to think about. I’m confident that following the advice in those posts will lead to significant results in a matter of weeks.
Today I’m going to touch on something that might be more surprising to some readers – the fact that fruit can stall your fat loss efforts. I’m not going to argue that fruit is bad for your health, of course – fruit is generally full of vitamins and fibre, both of which are very beneficial to your health. However, I am going to explain why certain types of fruit and large quantities of fruit are going to prevent you from losing body fat as quickly as you’d like.
Note: This is quite a long article and I’ve tried to touch on the reasoning behind some of the suggestions I’m making here. If you don’t have 10-15 mins to spare and would rather just cut to the chase, please feel free to just go to the last section – Taking it easy on the fruit – which summarises the article.
What’s in fruit?
To explain why we should be careful with our fruit intake when thinking about fat loss, a good place to start is what fruits are comprised of in terms of nutrition. The vast majority of the calories you get from fruit are in the form of sugar. In fact, most fruit contains some of each of the types of sugar we discussed previously (fructose, sucrose and glucose) though the ratios vary drastically. We’ll touch on what this means for your body later in this article but this should already give you pause. As we know, sugar and fat loss do not go together.
If you’re interested in going into a lot more detail about the types of sugar, check out this fantastic, if lengthy, article by Mark Sisson: The Definitive Guide to Sugar.
But fruit is natural! How can something that’s natural be bad for you?
This is an objection I hear often which I thought was worth addressing before going into more detail. Yes, of course eating things closer to their natural form rather than processed or synthetic foods is generally better. However, a blanket statement that anything that is natural can’t do you harm is obviously too much of a generalisation. If you put your mind to it, I’ll bet that you can think of several products of nature that are actually pretty bad for your health generally and not just your waistline.
In terms of fruit specifically, it is a product of nature but the fruit that is commercially available is quite different to what you might find growing wild. Let’s not even touch on the pesticides and ripening chemicals that most fruit is treated with. If nothing else, we need to realise that the fruit we get at the grocery store has been selectively bred for centuries to maximise commercial appeal. In other words, the fruit we get in stores has as much sugar in it as the species will allow. Sure, you may find some wild fruit that’s also high in sugar but many of us will have had the experience of tasting wild fruit and finding it quite sour.
Perhaps even more importantly on the “natural question”, in nature, we would only find fruit when it was in season and when we happened across it. There’s nothing natural about eating almost any kind of fruit in large quantities all year round.
I think it’s important to reiterate that no one is arguing that eating fruit is bad for you. However, the fact that it is “natural” should not give anyone the impression that eating as much of it as you want won’t have an impact on your body.
So what impact does fruit have on my body?
As discussed in our first post on fat loss, one of the key things to think about when selecting your food is how much sugar it has in it. High sugar intake leads to a blood sugar spike which is then followed by a rush of insulin all of which puts your body in the ideal state for fat storage. So a good place to start is to think about how much sugar fruit has in it.
Let’s have a look at how many grams of sugar some types of fruit have in them per 100g (source: Wikipedia)
- Grapes: 15.5g
- Bananas: 12.2g
- Dried figs: 47.9g (yikes!)
Side note: the last example highlights the fact that dried fruit is a no-go if you’re trying to lose body fat. The drying process just concentrates the sugar!
Clearly, some fruit actually comes with a pretty big dose of sugar. However, we also noticed in the post about carbohydrates that different types of sugars and carbs have different impacts on our blood sugar. The metric we introduced was the Glycemic Index but as you can see below, lots of fruit has a pretty high GI. Here are some examples from About.com:
- Bananas: 46-70 (quite a broad range but the upper end is worrying)
- Kiwi: 47-58
- Mango: 41-60
As you can see, both from a sugar-content-perspective and a GI-perspective, some fruit may be worth avoiding when it comes to your fat loss efforts. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily apply to all fruit. Later in this article, we’ll also cover which fruits are less likely to hamper your fat loss.
The effects of fructose on your body
Entire books have been written about the impact of fructose on your body but I felt that it would be wrong not to address it at all in an article about fruit. As mentioned above, most fruit contains some fructose and some fruit contains lots of it.
Fructose is a little bit counter-intuitive because it actually has a very low GI and so doesn’t lead to the same insulin response as other sugars. This may actually contribute to the belief that eating fruit in any quantity is ok. Unfortunately, studies have shown that fructose still has some deleterious effect on the body – some argue even more significantly than other sugar.
I won’t go into all the detail on why but fructose is actually believed to contribute to obesity in its own way and also increase your risks of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome (the precursor to Diabetes).
If you’re interested in learning more about the health effects of fructose, there’s a lot to read out there but for our purposes, suffice it to say that just because it comes from fruit does not mean it’s good for your health or your waistline in large quantities!
Do I have to cut fruit out of my diet entirely?
As I’ve outlined above, many types of fruit have characteristics that make them likely to hamper your fat loss if consumed in any significant quantity. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to cut fruit out completely. Certain types of fruit are much lower in sugar and of a much lower GI and can be consumed without much concern for your fat loss efforts. My advice would be to stick to low-sugar low-GI fruits and perhaps try to avoid eating fruit every day.
Fruit that isn’t as likely to hamper fat loss
When it comes to selecting which fruit to eat when trying to lose fat, the internet is your friend. You’ll find it very easy to google and look up both the sugar content and GI of the fruit you find at the grocery store. However, here is a starting point on fruit that’s generally ok to eat when trying to lose fat:
- Apples (albeit in moderate quantities)
- All types of berries are a great bet
The fruits above are relatively low in sugar (Apples being the highest) but they’re not the only ones that are. I’d encourage you to do your research. Here’s another article by Mark Sisson that covers which fruits are ok in terms of carbs and and which aren’t. Personally, I find the easiest thing to do is to stick to berries a couple of days per week when trying to reduce body fat.
Fruit that may stall your fat loss
We’ve covered some of the examples above but I think it’s worth reiterating some of the fruits that are particularly likely to hamper fat loss.
- Any kind of dried fruit!
- Some types of melon
These fruits are high in sugar but they also are not the only examples. When in doubt, stick to the fruit that you know is safe from a fat-loss perspective.
Where am I going to get my vitamins and fibre from?
If some of you eat a lot of fruit, you may be concerned that reducing your fruit intake will also reduce your vitamin and fibre intake. This is a valid concern worth addressing. If fruit represents most of the plant matter you consume, you should not reduce it without making sure you’re replacing it with other good sources of vitamins and fibre.
The most important place to start is vegetables. Veggies have lots of fibre and vitamins as well and generally without the same amount of sugar. Make sure you’re eating a broad variety and ideally eating some veg with ever meal.
In terms of fibre specifically, while you do get it from vegetables, legumes (beans & lentils) and whole grains are also great sources. For obvious reasons, I would be very careful to make sure that you’re getting enough fibre in your diet.
Taking it easy on the fruit
To summarise what has been covered in the article above:
- Fruit is a healthy natural food which contains lots of vitamins and fibre
- However, some fruit is very high in sugar and all fruit contains some sugar
- If you’re trying to lose body fat, try not to eat fruit every day and focus on low-sugar fruit like berries
- Make sure that you’re eating lots of vegetables to ensure that you’re getting the vitamins and fibre that you need
- Legumes and whole grains can provide additional fibre if necessary
I hope that’s helpful. Look out for our next post on eating for fat loss!