Does Fruit Make You Fat and Old?

by | Jul 14, 2010
Mango Vendor in Bangkok

Mango Vendor in Bangkok

Several readers have asked lately about the impact of fruit–specifically the sugar in fruit–and it’s capacity to cause weight gain and accelerate aging through insulin signaling:

“Do people usually gain weight because of eating fruit and does the sugar in fruit age us?  I just hate to think that I am doing my body harm by eating fruit.”

If this question sounds insane to you, it shouldn’t. It is actually a very reasonable query that was sparked by two Summer Tomato articles, one about saving money while eating healthy and another on calorie restriction, aging and quality of life. In the first article I recommend thinking of fruit as dessert, a treat to be enjoyed once or twice per day. The second article is about the impact of sugar and calories on aging.

Body Weight

The fact is that fruit contains a lot more sugar than other natural foods and in large enough quantities it can contribute to weight gain. But fruit is certainly not bad for you, nor is it worse for your health than anything else in life.

The sugar in fruit contributes calories to your diet, but since you need calories to survive fruit is still a very good choice. The reason is that in addition to sugar (fructose, to be specific) fruit also has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and many other things that contribute to health and possibly slow aging.

On the rare occasions when I do make an effort to lose a little weight, however, remembering that fruit should be dessert is something I keep in the back of my mind. I eat fruit every day, but when trying to lose weight I keep it under two servings and always choose whole fruit–avoiding anything blended or juiced. (Drinking calories is usually a bad idea.)

But this healthstyle tactic is not for everyone.

Why?

Unlike most people trying to lose weight, I already have a very healthy diet and fruit is one of the easiest places I can trim calories without feeling deprived. Cutting out things like fat and protein make dieting very difficult because you are always hungry. In my experience reducing unnecessary carbohydrates–especially sugars–is the easiest and healthiest way to lose weight.

But it is essential to remember most people are not overweight because they eat too much fruit and the vast majority of people would benefit from eating more of it.

Aging

The question about whether sugar causes aging is a fascinating one that I am very interested in.

Yes, in most organisms eating sugar has been shown to promote aging, but this has not been proven in humans. Sugar induces aging via the insulin signaling pathway, so therefore any food that increases insulin signaling could theoretically accelerate aging. The problem is that you need insulin to survive–those who cannot produce insulin have a disease called type 1 diabetes.

The good news is that eating a diet that minimizes insulin signaling is also the best way to lose weight and stay healthy, so if you are living a healthy lifestyle (one that includes fruit) you do not need to worry about anything else.

Although fruits have sugar, it is extremely unlikely that they accelerate aging. In fact, most evidence suggests that fruit slows aging because of its high levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

If anti-aging is your goal, fruit is your friend not your enemy.

For more on insulin signaling, check out my post at MizFit Online, When is a calorie not a calorie.

Conclusion

While fruits contain sugar, they do not pose a special threat to your health goals. Eat and enjoy fruits as a wonderful and delicious part of life.

How much fruit do you eat?

Originally published August 31, 2009.

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35 Responses to “Does Fruit Make You Fat and Old?”

  1. Abhishek says:

    I don’t eat enough fruit :(

  2. Jan says:

    Darya! I think the photo is great but having it right under the title makes it look like the woman is being called out! :-( I guess it’s a coincidence that she happens to be big but daaaaaaaaaaaaang!

    In my experience, eating fruit has contributed to my weight gain because of all the sugars, whether or not they were natural. So even a banana could be too sweet for me. But I guess this is speaking from when I was strictly on a low carb diet.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I can see your point Jan, but I found this picture particularly telling because NO ONE in Thailand is this heavy. I do not think it is a coincidence that she is sitting behind a giant cart of mangoes and sticky rice.

      She did seem like a very happy lady though :)

      • Kat says:

        I enjoy most of your posts, but the choice of that photo really shows your privilege, unfortunately. You can do better than that Darya. Don’t call out a woman who probably has a much lower quality of life than you.

      • Darya Rose says:

        Criticism accepted. This is a very old post, I was a grad student at the time and didn’t feel particularly privileged at all. It took me 4 years to pay for this trip. That said, I still think it’s interesting that the only overweight person I saw in the whole country sold mango sticky rice.

      • Kat says:

        I did not feel particularly privileged when I was a college student,too. Nonetheless, we are very privileged. This woman probably has no hope of ever leaving her country. I currently live in South Korea. A woman in a market who sells vegetables near my office is significantly overweight as well. Does that mean vegetables make you fat, too? In reality she probably has medical issues that make her sedentary,but she still needs to work. The woman you posted could possibly have the same problem. She might also be part of a minority tribe like the Hmong who tend to be much heavier than ethnic Thais. Of course, we don’t know anything about her except you think it’s funny a “fat” person sells fruit.
        Delete this photo. This is intellectually sloppy and weakens your argument. You really can do much, much better.

    • Donis Fylaktou says:

      Here is my story. It was the middle of the night. I opened my eyes and was awakened by
      earth shattering pain. My big toe was throbbing. In fact it felt like a towering inferno.
      I turned on the light and was startled to see that my great toe was 3 times its normal size.
      It was bright red and red hot, just like a firecracker and the pain was the most severe that
      I’ve ever experienced by far.
      The suffering that I had to endure was almost unbelievable.
      That was over ten years ago. At the beginning I was having attacks
      every 6 months. Then gradually I was getting them every 3 months, then every month and
      eventually
      every week.It started at my big toe and then it was moving sometimes in my knees,and
      generally
      all around my joints, in my feet.And the pain was agonising.
      I have tried all the cures you can imagine.I tried ACV, lemons, drinking a lot of water, but
      to no avail.
      I tried water fasting, juice fasting,baking soda, again without success.
      I almost gave up meat, limiting it to only once a week ,gave up alcohol completely,again
      no success.
      I was living on vegetables, lots and lots of fresh fruit, milk ,cheese beans and so on .My
      eating habits
      could not be healthier ,or so I thought.But my gout was worsening.
      Then I decided to increase the amount of fruit I was consuming, thinking that if some fruit
      is healthy, more
      fruit will be more healthy.Some days I was eating fruit only ,others over 10 portions a day.
      And alas my gout instead of improving it became chronic ,it was there all the time.
      I was desperate I did not know what to do.And then one day accidentally I read an article
      about fructose,
      which is contained in fruit in large quantities.It said that it increases uric acid, in a matter
      of minutes.
      Fructose is also present in table sugar, and in HFCS, which is used in soft drinks.
      I put two and two together and realised what I was doing wrong.
      I stopped eating fruit and all other sugars, for a period of 3 weeks,and by magic I saw a
      dramatic
      improvement.Pain was gone, swelling was gone, I was fine.
      I re introduced fruit again in my diet but reducing them to 1 or 2 a day, and my gout almost
      disappeared.
      I do eat more meat now, and occasionally have an alcoholic drink, and thank God everything
      seems to be fine.
      Fructose was my enemy.

  3. Amy says:

    Thanks for addressing this. I eat about 3-4 servings a day in the summer, less in the winter. What I love about fruit is that most of the time eating what’s in season is what’s right for your body, too.

  4. Matt Shook says:

    I don’t know about “servings” but I probably eat about 10 grapes, 10 strawberries, 20 blueberries, a banana, and 1 or 2 apples/pears/nectarines/etc. on average per day. I love fruit and usually eat quite a bit in my breakfast smoothie (plus hemp granola), and also as snacks during and after work. As far as weight concerns go I think it really depends on how active you are…I ate a ton of fruit this past year (higher than usual) and actually lost about 10-12 pounds.

    I never really gave the aging idea much thought, but this article was very insightful and useful.

    Here’s a question…is there any possibility of finding the fructose to vitamins/antioxidant ratio of a variety of fruits?

    • Darya Pino says:

      Great point about activity levels and personal differences. That really is the key, to find out what works for yourself.

      As for fructose/antioxidant ratios, we could probably figure it out but I think our time would be better spent eating fruit ;)

  5. Not all fruit is created equally. I have no worries eating berries. Bananas, grapes, cherries, watermelon are different..too much sugar for my system, and need to be monitored. When I want to LOSE weight, gala apples seem to help me stave off hunger. In winter, I eat an apple a day, but I also love pears,which again have too much sugar, unless I get them hard and not too ripe. I am very sugar sensitive and I can feel the effects immediately, so I think there are times fruit can be too much of a sweet thing.

    Having said all that, cookies or grapes, choose grapes.

    • pam says:

      Angela,
      As I have gotten older, I have the same kind of reaction to sweet fruit! I live in Thailand, and rarely eat sweets. But pineapple, watermelon, and mangos are too sweet for my system, and I gain weight easily on them.

  6. Kaizan says:

    Interesting article!

    It’s drummed into everyone that fruit is unquestionably healthy. Some people with diabetes will mistakenly eat lots of bananas assuming they are ok, but this plays havoc with their blood sugar.

    As you point out, most people have terrible diets, so its a fine line when you say watch out for fruit. I can imagine people cutting back on apples to eat a Mars bar!

    • Darya Pino says:

      You nailed it. This was a tricky post to write because it is hard to send the right message.

      You reminded me that I need to write a post about bananas. Those big yellow ones in supermarkets are such a bizarre phenomenon.

  7. Hanlie says:

    I eat about 8 fruits a day and have in the process reversed my insulin resistance. My diet is not high-calorie though, since I rarely eat grains or animal based foods… Fruit and vegetables form the basis of my diet.

  8. julie says:

    I’ve been wondering about this lately, I eat an awful lot of fruit in the summer. I am always trying to eat more vegetables instead, but I don’t like them as much. But I no longer fool myself about it, these medjool dates I like so much are about 150 calories each, dripping sugar. I just found a calorie count for them, so now I have to moderate them a bit more than I have recently.

  9. Eliza says:

    hey i am a recovering anorexic, and currently at a very low weight of 69 lbs and i am 5’2…i am a vegetarian so i tend to get a lot of my calories from fruits, beans and grains and of course vegetables…right now i am trying to gain weight, and i eat around 4-6 serving of fruit a day like 1/2 a banana and 2 tbsp of raisins in my oatmeal at breakfast. a fruit and nut bar (lara bar)=1 fruit…usually a small apple with lunch and then another serving at snack in the afternoon and sometimes to reach my calorie goal i need to get i have some prunes or a fresh fig or medjool date at night…reading this, i was getting scared that i eat WAY too much fruit, 5 a day? i thought the food pyramid said 5-7 a day? i have also been to treatment centers for my anorexia where the nutritionist says 5-7…. well i think everyone should just enjoy food they love and if one happens to love fruit(like me :) )then eat it! but just dont go crazy ;) well fruit is so healthy and has so much vitamins, potassium, natural electrolytes that help make your weight stable, and did u know dried fruits help you not retain water? well i found this all interesting, but i just dont think eating fruit is a dessert nor is it bad to eat more than 4 servings a day…i maintained a healthy weight for a while a year ago and ate 5 fruits on average a day…and nothing bad happened. okay sorry such a long comment i left here.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thank you for your comment Eliza, and I’m happy to hear you are on a path to recovery. Certainly you do not need to be worried that you are eating too much fruit! Fruit is very healthy, you are absolutely right about that.

      It is important to remember that everyone is different though, and clearly you are at a point where you have very different metabolic needs that most people. The recommendation of 5-7 servings per day is actually referring to fruits AND vegetables, and for most people it should lean heavily toward vegetables. Some people, myself included, think we should eat even more produce than this, more like 7-9 servings.

      Also, don’t rely on the USDA pyramid that was created by the agriculture industries. A better resource is the Harvard healthy eating pyramid.

      We all need to discover our own healthstyle, and this includes learning how much fruit we can eat for optimal health.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  10. diego says:

    Hi!
    I’m fortunate enough to live in Spain, where there’s superb seasonal fruit and vegetables all year.
    In recent years I put on quite some weight, and at the start of April decided to change my eating habits (hopefully for good).
    I enjoy 5 meals a day: breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner. Mid-morning and afternoon are always (and only) fruit, seasonal whenever possible. I don’t know how to measure servings, but it’s not rocket science; you just eat a little less than you would like to… And, yes, some fruit are more fattening than others, but those are also more filling; I mean, you can’t really eat as much of figs as you can of melon, can you?
    I’ve lost 17kg in 14 weeks at a steady pace, feel better than ever, and latest tests show I’m healthy.
    My two euro cents’ worth…

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for chiming in! Sounds like great advice, but unfortunately I think for most Americans “not eating as much as you’d like to” is inconceivable :\

      • diego says:

        I was born and raised in Canada, so I know what you mean.
        A great suggestion comes from a great Spanish chef, Karlos Arguiñano. He calls his secret “diet” the “J.E.H. Diet” (loose translation): “just eat half”. Take what you think you’d like to eat BEFORE you cook or order (when you’re hungry), then actually cook/order and eat half of that; that should be enough…
        Oh, and one more thought on fruit: I don’t eat fruit (or anything sweet) after meals; it alters the digestion… Only in the morning or afternoon!

  11. GiGi says:

    I actually do not eat ANY fruit because I believe it has way too much sugar… and I know if I were to start eating it, I wouldn’t be able to stop!

  12. George G. says:

    The problem with fruit isn’t so much an insulin spike. Almost literally everything we ingest can cause this. Meat, nuts, vegetables, even a lot of supplements cause insulin spikes (though little ones). The problem with fruit is fructose. Insulin can be easily managed, but fructose really does some nasty things in the liver and totally throws off lipid metabolism and the management of insulin. Fruit does taste good, though…

  13. BarbD says:

    Wow….I missed this article originally since I only found Summer Tomato a few weeks ago. I have to pretty much force myself to eat even one piece of fruit a day sometimes, unless I’m buying perfect stuff from the farmer’s market or one of our local apple growers. I love berries of any sort, but as with all other fruits they taste pretty awful out of season. I must admit I’m no lover of sweets and in a bakery it’s the wonderful breads that get my attention, not the sweet stuff. I’ve never had a problem working plenty of vegetables into my diet, but I think you can do a lot with vegetables.

    For the past 6 months or so I have made sure I eat a piece of fruit every day (or most days), and I’m managing to slowly lose some weight, in part because the fruit replaces something not as nutritious (like bread for instance, especially white bread). I’m the type to garbage up on the fats and salty stuff, just my personal preference, not good. But yes, I can see where eating lots and lots of fruit every day could cause a problem with weight gain, unless you’re limiting yourself to say, berries. I rarely eat more than half a banana, and I love pineapple, but that stuff is really high in calories! Sorry, but the diet mentally dies hard.

  14. Donna says:

    Hello,

    Great article. I just Google- “Does fruit diet make you fat” and came across this article.

    I am about 5’3. Within the past 5 years I have gained about 20 lbs. I weighed myself at the beginning of this month and was shocked! I was weighing 143 lbs. I IMMEDIATELY started a diet in an attempt to lose 20 lbs. It wasn’t intentional, but most of my diet end up being fruits, fruits and more fruits- breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a little exercise and as much water as I can drink (when I remember- lol). I’ve also been using a lot of eggs- 2 for breakfast and 2 for dinner- any style. I weighed last week (after 3 weeks) and I am now weighing 133, thus, I have lost 10 lbs. 10 more to go.

    Honestly, I have NEVER felt hungry during those 3 weeks. But recently I have gotten conscious of the sugar content of most fruits…

    I know fruits are healthy, but I do not know if I am eating too much, though my mission is being accomplished.

  15. Sabrina says:

    Fruit is good for you. A lot better than fast food which people eat way too much of.

  16. Stephanie says:

    Hi Darya,
    I just read the article and the comments that followed and you refered to individuals needing to figure out how many fruits is optimal for them. I’m in the process of losing weight and have been eating 3-4 servings of fruit a day…so far that hasn’t inhibibited the weight loss, but how do I figure out the optimal amount?? Thanks again :) Take care!

    • Darya Pino says:

      If you’re losing weight eating that many servings you are doing great! You can vary your servings and see how you feel, but I think this is too trivial to matter and it might just make you crave sugar from less healthy sources.

  17. pat says:

    Help, I eat strawberries, blueberries, a banana every morning because I don’t eat eggs. I am finding it impossible to lose any weight.
    Could this be the problem? I am very careful to eat healthily at my other meals. But now I am thinking all the fruit is making me gain???

  18. pat says:

    I have given up splenda because I didn’t like what I read about sugar-substitutes. I now use a little sugar in my coffee or tea, would I be better off going back to splenda???

  19. Adam says:

    Certain quantities of fruit (and beyond) will, indeed, increase your body fat. Fructose (the natural sugar found in fruit) refills liver glycogen, which aids in the transportation of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc to the rest of the body. A very small amount of fructose will do this. If you eat too much fructose (doesn’t take much), you will overflow your liver glycogen. When this happens, every carb taken in, until the overflow is taken care of, will be immediately stored as fat instead of being used as energy by the body. This is why 1 of the 3 major things fitness freaks who have to cut for competitions and/or modeling stay away from while in their cutting phase is FRUIT (the other 2 are dairy and bread). Yes, I was a competitive bodybuilder and realize 99.99999% of people aren’t looking to get down to 2% bodyfat for a single day to go on stage and show every muscle fiber possible in their body. However, it works for the average person too if they want to trim fat. If you want to just “lose weight,” then that’s easy. Eat whatever the hell you want… just make sure you’re burning more calories per day than you’re consuming. By doing this and not having a real plan, you’ll probably end up being “skinny fat.” I can’t tell you how many people I’ve performed a body fat test on who are 120 pounds and 35% bodyfat. Forget BMI. I don’t care what weight you are… If you’re 35% body fat, you’re freaking fat. The key to being healthy is nutrition and knowing how your body breaks down and utilizes what you’re taking in. Sorry to burst your bubble, fruit lovers. The good news (like stated above): If you don’t care about being toned at all and you’re just infatuated with seeing a certain number on the scale (which is kind of useless), then eat all the fruit you want!

    Everyone is all hyped up about fruits making you fat vs. fruits not making you fat because of the sugar. It’s not “sugar” … It’s the TYPE of sugar. Also, nutrients in fruits can be found other places as well. Unfortunately, nobody in America pays attention to absorption when it comes to how things absorb/don’t absorb (even if the nutrition label says they’re there). Am I telling you not to eat fruit? No. A little bit of fruit goes a long way. But hell, eat what you want. It’s your body you have to live with. If you want it to look great, then research like crazy. Don’t take advice from blogs like these (don’t even take my advice if you don’t want to). Referenced articles, people.

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