Fruit got a bad rap in the dieting world (it certainly was never viewed as an anti-obese food). It was vilified for years because of its high sucrose, fructose and glucose sugars. Diabetics ran from it, even nutritionists only recommend fruit in small doses, like one or two a day. This is unfortunate. Healthwise fruit is packed with nutrients and helps our bodies thrive. Finally, there are studies proving that whole fruit aids weight loss. Hopefully, that will get the attention of dieters and nutritionist as they develop wellness plans.
A 12 year-long study of 74,063 borderline overweight middle-aged female nurses with a BMI around 29 and an average age of 50 reported that an increase in whole fruit reduced the likelihood of obesity. With an increase of a quarter to almost two times their previous fruit consumption, they reduced their risk of obesity by 14-24%. With the 24% going to those women who almost doubled their whole fruit consumption. There have been many other studies with similar results. One of particular importance to women of normal weight moving into menopause showed that increasing whole fruit intake reduced their risk of becoming obese. That alone should put fruit on every woman’s plate.
This is crazy, right? Fruit is packed with sugar and weren’t we taught too much sugar causes obesity? Yet there is study after study that says otherwise.
There are many theories related to these studies of why fruit works so well for weight loss. As you read through this, keep in mind, not all fruit is created equal. While many judge fruit by it’s glycemic index, it is the glycemic load that counts.
A low glycemic load is considered between 1-10. This allows for a nice variety of fruit, but it does leave out many fan favorites like dates, bananas, grapes, figs and definitely raisins. Remember we are talking weight loss here, so keep your fruit in the low glycemic load range and enjoy apples, blueberries, mangoes, pineapple, oranges and even watermelon although it has a high glycemic index.
So what makes fruit an anti-obese food? The fiber? That’s the leading theory. Fiber plays a big role in explaining why fruit is anti-obesity. Research suggest two distinct reasons. A lot of the sugar in fruit attaches itself to the fruit fiber. By being attached to the fiber the sugars are digested slowly giving the liver more time to absorb them. This explains why fruit juice is so high in sugars. Strip the fiber and all you get are sugars readily absorbed that spike blood sugar. All that sugar is not good for diabetics, those with insulin resistance, and as studies show children at risk for becoming overweight.
A study done in 1999 through 2000 had 2810 participants between the age of 1 and 4. Researches measured the children’s height and weight for 48 months. The study concluded that those who were at risk to be overweight or already overweight with increased fruit juice intake gained adipose tissue (fat). Yet children with those same risks who increased whole fruit consumption lost body fat. Strangely enough, the fruit juice affected height as well.
The second reason they deemed fruit fiber a leading theory was because high fiber takes longer to digest which keeps you full longer. The most interesting and possibly convincing studies done were in regards to satiety. It seems dietary fiber creates a gelatinous layer in the small intestines which prolongs satiety allowing us to go longer between meals, therefore cutting back total calories of the day.
Researchers are still perplexed. They don’t believe fiber alone can be the whole answer for why fruit is anti-obesity if it were all any of us would have to do is add more fiber to our diet. While fiber is great for your cardiovascular and digestive systems, it doesn’t make the food we eat less fat producing.
So, they are looking at other things like the fact that fruit offers the best micronutrients of all natural food. Studies have shown deficiencies in Vit C, A and E along with deficiencies in zinc, iron, and calcium adversely affect weight maintenance.
Fruit also offers phytochemicals. While they are not essential for vital functions, their phenolic compounds play a role in decreasing the risk for obesity, diabetes 2, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
In a study done on 25 of the most commonly consumed fruits it was found each had their own unique phenolic components and in different quantities. Wild blueberries and blackberries had the most with pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry, plum and apple right behind them.
Another area of interest is gut microbes. It seems gut microbes in the obese are different than that of normal weight individuals. The components of dietary fiber brings a healthier microbe ecology that creates more of the lean-type microbes and reduces obesity-type microbes.
Hopefully, researchers will do more studies to narrow down the exact reason whole fruit is an anti-obese food. Until then, there is enough research available today to alleviate the fear many have for fruit. Even for those with blood sugar issues. If you have protein with your low glycemic fruit, you can keep those sugars balanced, get the benefits of all the nutrients of fruit, quench your appetite and keep hunger pangs away. Not to mention speed up your weight loss.
So, instead of heading for the salad bar for weight loss, pick up a piece of fruit and smile. Not only are you nourishing your body you’re pushing back the pounds.
Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity.
Sharma SP, Chung HJ, Kim HJ, Hong ST.
Nutrients. 2016 Oct 14;8(10). pii: E633. Review.
Thank you for putting fruit back in its rightful place for health.
Carly Fraser says
Yes!! It is so important that this is known – fruit is an amazing weight loss food!
Dean Plassaras says
Fruit is one of the main foods for human consumption, and this article is very articulate. I agree as a nutritionist that fruits are needed for their fiber and vitamins. Low glycemic load fruits are even better and the only way that we can use high glycemic load fruits is a few hours before exercise or during exercise in a smoothie (instead of consuming plain sugar).
Anyway, it's important to keep fruits in our diet, but if we do we have also to move our bodies more. We can't just do the one part of this equation while leaving the other out and STILL expecting the same results as our ancestors.
Carly Fraser says
I eat high-glycemic fruits during any time of the day, and haven't gained a pound! But maybe for some people it is different? Thanks for the comment Dean! 🙂
I was unaware of the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load. Great article!
Carly Fraser says
Thanks for stopping by! 🙂