I get the question a lot – “does the sugar from fruit make you fat?”
The plain and simple answer is no, but let me explain.
The Ultimate Nutrition Dichotomy
Some experts claim that we should eat as much raw fruit as possible and eating it prevents and even heals diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other degenerative diseases.
On the other hand, other experts claim that fruit is absolutely detrimental to one’s health because it contains sugar, and apparently they consider any kind of sugar evil.
What a dichotomy!
Obviously, two different nutrition approaches couldn’t be more contradictory! They both can’t be right. So which one is correct?
Perhaps looking at the evidence would bring some clarity to the issue. So let’s see.
Looking At The Real Life Evidence
People who get their calorie intake primarily from fruit are called fruitarians. I’ve met quite a few long term fruitarians and none of them are fat! They’re all slim, fit and healthy, even though their sugar intake is extremely high.
On the other hand, I’ve also met a lot of people who avoid sugar and many of them seem to be fit and healthy too!
That’s where it gets really confusing. These two approaches are completely opposite, yet somehow both of them seem to be working to keep people slim and fit. Perhaps science has the answer?
The experts who demonize fruit often like to quote some scientific studies. Tryng to find out the truth for myself, I’ve done a thorough research on their claims and their supporting evidence.
When I dig out those studies and read them fully, I see that they have been conducted using highly processed fructose (for example, this, this, this and that study) and never with whole fruit. The conclusions of those studies are therefore fundamentally flawed.
It is true that fruit contains fructose, but never in the concentration of the processed fructose found in many manufactured foods and drinks. It is often claimed that fructose damages liver. However, the study shows that industrial, not fruit fructose is associated with liver damage.
It seems that the buzz about fruit being bad for you is based on the false assumption that, because refined fructose is bad for your health and fruit contains naturally occurring fructose, therefore all fruit is bad for you. However, the study has shown that for weight loss achievement a moderate natural fructose diet was superior to a low-fructose diet.
One study which had been conducted for 24 years with almost 3.5 million people, concluded that the consumption of whole fruit actually lowered the risk of type-2 diabetes.
There is another study by Harvard University that also shows that whole fruit consumption lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Whole fruit contains water soluble and water insoluble fibres, antioxidants and other chemical compounds which slow down the sugar absorption into the bloodstream. They also contain copious amounts of antioxidants which are vital for cell protection and free radical neutralisation. On top of that, they are full of vitamins and minerals that are so important for our bodily functions.
At the same time, there is also evidence that a low sugar diet also helps with weight loss.
So where’s the truth?
The Dilemma Answered! Confusion Solved
After reading many scientific studies, trying different dietary approaches on myself (including both fruitarian and no sugar diet) and studying human metabolism (especially blood sugar regulation), I came to a conclusion that it is the combination of too much fat and too much sugar in the bloodstream that creates adverse blood-sugar levels.
It is this combination, which is so prevalent in today’s processed foods and diets, that contributes most to modern day weight gain and diet related illness.
Last year the BBC broadcast a documentary on the “Fat v Sugar” topic.
Identical male twins, both practising doctors, young and healthy, went on month-long diets, one (“Fat twin”) eating nothing but animal protein and fat, the other (“Sugar twin”) only carbohydrates and sugars, including fruit and vegetables. They could eat as much as they wanted, and were closely monitored by researchers, and tested before, during and after the experiment.
“Sugar twin” consistently out-performed “Fat twin” on both mental and physical performance.
They both lost weight but “Sugar twin” lost only fat. “Fat twin” lost more muscle than fat, which is a very unhealthy outcome.
The experiment corroborated the view that both approaches are effective for losing weight, that’s why people who swear by low carb diets are right in a way – you do lose weight when you restrict carbohydrates. But evidently at the expense of your long term health.
The tentative conclusion to the program, proposed following the month-long experiment, was that it is the sugar and fat combination in the modern Western diet that is most harmful to health. Citing previous laboratory research, the program pointed to the special potency of the ratio 50/50 fat/sugar in food, which is highly addictive because it seems to stimulate a basic biological reward system in our brain.
Understanding Blood Sugar Regulation
I see a lot of magazine articles and hear people talking about sugar as if it was some sort of evil. But you can only consider it evil if you don’t understand human metabolism and energy regulation.
First of all, everyone has blood sugar and without it we would simply die. Even people who have been water fasting for 4 weeks have blood sugar, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to survive. Even if you do not consume carbohydrates, your body turns fats and proteins into glucose in your body.
So sugar is not the problem, blood sugar swings are.
In a healthy body the glucose in blood is, with the help of insulin, transferred to the cells. But when there are too many lipids (fat) flowing in the bloodstream the glucose cannot be transmitted to the cells efficiently, therefore too much sugar (glucose) accumulates in the blood. The pancreas releases even more insulin which then leads to a drop in blood sugar. These imbalances and surges may cause you to have low energy, cravings for sugary food and drinks and mood swings. Also, in the long term, it may cause insulin resistance which leads to type-2 diabetes.
High levels of triglycerides (fat) are found in the blood streams of insulin resistant patients. This has historically been seen as a consequence of insulin resistance. However, according to the study, accumulation of triglycerides in the blood stream of insulin-resistant patients may not only be a consequence of insulin resistance, but could also be a cause.
This means that fat, not the sugar, is the primary culprit for diabetes.
In dealing with type 2 diabetes (a disease where the body produces too much insulin) it seems deceptively obvious that the solution is to reduce the patient’s intake of carbohydrates, because they turn to sugar in the body, and insulin is a sugar processing and regulating hormone. However, to my knowledge, this approach hasn’t cured anyone of the illness, just made it a little more manageable. It deals with the symptoms, not the causes of the disease.
In contrast, there is considerable evidence that diets low in fat and high in plant-based carbohydrates can heal type 2 diabetes (see in particular the work of Dr John McDougall and Dr Neal Barnard).
Studies (e.g. this, this and this study) show that vegan diets can treat and prevent type-2 diabetes. Even if you do not have or are not at risk of getting diabetes, these significant studies show that a vegan diet helps to balance blood sugar levels which is absolutely vital in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
The Best Solution For Weight Loss and Health
Based on the research and my experience of losing over 40 lbs of fat and guiding many other people to do the same, fruit is absolutely healthy and can be very beneficial in losing weight!
However, if you decide to have a high fruit diet, then it’s essential that you avoid or dramatically reduce meat, dairy and other fatty foods due to their effect on blood sugar regulation, as explained above.
So there you go! Now you can understand why so many nutrition approaches seem to be so contradictory and have enough information to decide which approach is best for you.
And yes, you can eat fruit if you want to be healthy and lose weight! One of the reasons I love fruit is that it’s the ultimate fast food. No preparation required, simply wash, peel, sometimes slice, and eat!