The fruit is a frequent source of myths and fables. Some equate them with vegetables and encourage us to eat as many as possible. For others they are sugar packets and they recommend eliminating them. Some believe that it should be eaten alone and never at night.
Today we review what studies tell us, recommendations on how much fruit to eat per day Y the best options according to your goals.
Fruit and evolution
Before coming down from the trees, fruit was our favorite food. Although our subsequent feeding diversified, it is reasonable to think that we are still well adapted to eating fruit.
As we saw in the vegetable guide, plants have no interest in being eaten, and they defend themselves with bitter chemicals. But like any living being, they want to reproduce, and one of their strategies is wrap their seeds in sweet and colorful packages: the fruit.
Its color and flavor attract animals, which eat the fruit and spread the seeds away from the tree, accompanied by a good dose of compost. This estrangement prevents the children from competing with the mother plant for resources, as well as helping it to expand throughout the world. The result is a symbiotic relationship: animals feed and plants reproduce.
For this reason ripe fruits have no toxins or antinutrients. Plants do not want to harm those who help them to prosper.
Our long relationship with the fruit has adapted us perfectly to its consumption, but the constant manipulation over millennia has made some modern fruits quite different from the ancestral ones. They have gained sweetness but have lost nutrition.
Fruit and health
Most studies show benefits of fruit:
- Each daily serving of fruit reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 7% (meta-analysis).
- Higher fruit consumption appears generally linked to lower body weight (meta-analysis, study, study).
- More fruit intake is associated with less cardiovascular disease and cancer (meta-analysis, meta-analysis).
But the science of nutrition is complex, and there are frequent problems with these studies:
- They put fruits and vegetables in the same bag, despite being different foods.
- Most are observational studies, which identify correlation but cannot establish causality (more detail). Better health by eating more fruit or simply by eating less junk? Or is it that those who eat more fruit also move more or smoke less?
Luckily we also have intervention studies that allow us to isolate the role of fruit, establishing causality, and fruit improves, for example, blood pressure (study), oxidative stress and glucose control (study).
If we talk about weight loss, the results are quite modest (meta-analysis). In moderation they will surely help you but it is not advisable to go overboard.
Three factors explain most of its benefits:
- Fiber. It reduces the insulin response and increases the production of butyric acid in the colon.
- Satiety. The contribution of fiber and the chewing needs make the fruit satiating, highlighting some such as apple and orange (detail).
- Nutritional density. Although less nutritionally dense than vegetables, they provide a respectable amount of micronutrients for each calorie (study).
How many fruits a day?
The recommended amount, as almost always, will depend on your circumstances. In this case, the key factors are your insulin sensitivity, your goals, and your level of physical activity:
- If you have any type of fructose intolerance or are on a ketogenic diet, your fruit intake should be small. There is no risk of deficiency if you eat enough vegetables.
- If you have type II diabetes and are sedentary, better limit yourself to a couple of servings a day, prioritizing low sugar (study, study). That said, if adding any additional fruit helps you eliminate an industrial snack (like cookies), go ahead, the change will be positive.
- Insulin sensitivity is lost during pregnancy, and an excess of fruit rich in sugar is linked to gestational diabetes (study). Curiously, dates improve the sensitivity of oxytocin receptors, and consumed during the last weeks of pregnancy facilitate delivery (study, study, study).
- If your main goal is to lose weight and you are cutting calories, I recommend 2-3 servings during the day. Maybe one more with your shake after training. If eating more fruit displaces quality vegetables or protein, your results will deteriorate.
- If you are looking to gain muscle and need more carbohydrates and calories, all fruits are your friends. Eat whatever you want.
The best fruits
All fruits are good in their natural form, and again the best selection depends on your situation.
In The Revolutionary Plan I make the following classification, but it is aimed at weight loss, and therefore I prioritize fruits with higher nutritional density and lower caloric and carbohydrate intake.
If your main goal is to gain muscle mass and you need more calories, eat whatever you prefer. The more variety the better. And even if you are looking to lose fat, after training it can be interesting to add fruits with more sugar, such as bananas or even dates.
Another good recommendation is prioritize local and seasonal fruits. Not only is it more sustainable, it is more nutritious. The more time elapses between harvesting and consumption, the more nutrients are lost (study).
Frequently asked questions about the fruit
Is fructose a problem?
Fructose is processed differently from glucose (detail, study) and although it facilitates a greater synthesis of visceral fat (study, study), especially in the face of excess calories, it is not as bad as some believe (detail). But also fruit is much more than fructose, and you’d have to eat a lot for it to be a problem.
The chewing process and the presence of fiber also slow down the absorption of this fructose, minimizing any possible negative impact. And this explains the problem with juices.
Are fruit juices good?
While fruit consumption has benefits in almost all studies, juices are frequently associated with an increased risk of diabetes (study, study, study).
Of the three great benefits of fruit, you eliminate two (fiber and satiety) and you get the worst part (sugar) and some nutrient. Higher insulin spikes occur (study) and your microbiota becomes poorer, another risk factor in diabetes (study, study).
And what about purees or smoothies? By maintaining fiber they are better than juices, but worse than whole fruit (study).
As always, after training a faster absorption of glucose, fructose and nutrients can be interesting to recharge muscle and liver glycogen. For example, I usually add 1-2 bananas to my post workout shake.
Should you eat the skin?
As a general rule yes. Much of the fiber and nutrients are concentrated in the skin. Remember that color represents nutrition.
For example, apple skin is especially rich in two special compounds:
- Ursolic acid. Promotes Muscle Gains (Study, Study, Study), Prevents Fat Accumulation (Study), and Increases Beneficial Brown Fat (Study).
- Quercetin. Helps reduce blood pressure (study) and inflammation (study, study). Don’t you like apples? Red onion is especially rich in quercetin.
When you peel the apple, you lose a large part of these elements, in addition to reducing its fiber intake. In this study, those who ate the whole apple (with skin) ended up with better cardiovascular indicators than the group who ate only the flesh of the apple.
For many, the danger of the skin is pesticides, and although they represent a real problem, they can be minimized with a good washing (study).
Another fear of eating the skin is wax layer which is added in some cases as extra protection, especially in fruit that comes from afar, but it doesn’t worry me either (detail, detail). It is a natural substance produced by fruits and plants as a waterproofing agent.
That said, I prefer my fruit to travel as little as possible and require no more wax than the original.
Note: Since the skin represents the first protective layer of the fruit, it is rich in compounds such as lipid-transporting proteins (LTPs), to which some people are allergic. If this is your case, peel the fruit.
Are organic fruits better?
We can do the analysis from two perspectives:
- Nutrition: Organic fruits are not necessarily more nutritious than conventional ones. Nutrients depend on many factors, from the quality of the soil to the degree of maturity, and of course the time between harvest and consumption. A naturally ripened conventional apple fresh from the tree is likely to be more nutritious than an organic apple that spends weeks traveling in cold rooms from New Zealand. That said, studies tend to show higher levels of antioxidants in organic products (meta-analysis).
- Pesticides. In this case the answer is simpler. Organic products have fewer traces of pesticides (meta-analysis, study, study). The debate in this case would be whether the levels present in conventional fruits are dangerous to health. It is an unresolved issue, but as a precaution wash your fruit well.
What is my recommendation? If your budget allows it, choose organic and local as much as possible, especially in peeled fruits with a higher presence of pesticides (such as strawberries).
If your budget is limited, don’t worry too much either. It is more important to spend the money on quality animal protein, such as organic meat or eggs.
Should the fruit be eaten alone?
Alone or accompanied, as you like the most. Dissociated diets have little foundation (detail, study).