Loading your diet with fruit seems like a no-brainer, right? Your body gets a boost from nutritious superstars like fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, plus juicy berries might even satisfy your sweet tooth. But that doesn’t mean maintaining a 24/7 fruit free-for-all is good for your health. “Fruit is high in a sugar known as fructose. Even though the sugar is coming from this healthy source, you still have to use moderation,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, a dietitian at B-Nutritious.
If you’re panicking because you’ve been devouring fruit salad to your heart’s content, don’t worry. Here’s what you need to know about how much fruit you should really be eating every day.
Why Eating Too Much Fruit Might Impact Your Health
Sugar comes in a few different forms: Glucose, fructose and sucrose. Glucose helps keep all your systems chugging along smoothly. “Carbohydrates break down into glucose, your body’s main source of fuel,” says Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian and author of Living a Real Life with Real Food. Then you have fructose, the only type of sugar found in fruits. It’s metabolized in the liver, as opposed to in the blood stream. Sucrose, more commonly known as table sugar, is simply a combination of both glucose and fructose.
High blood sugar, which is caused by too much glucose in your blood, can lead to diabetes. Refined carbohydrates, like white rice or white-flour baked goods, are common culprits leading to high blood sugar. In addition to their sugar content, they lack the fiber that prevents glucose spikes, wreaking havoc on your blood sugar levels. “Too much sugar in the blood stream at once leads to fat storage and insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes,” says Zeitlin.
The lesser-known fact is that fructose, or fruit sugars, can also play a role in the disease. “Your liver turns any excess sugar intake into triglycerides that get stored in fat cells throughout the body,” says Zeitlin. “The more sugar you eat, the more fat you store.” Specifically, too much sugar, even from the fructose found in fruits, can lead to a buildup of that visceral belly fat that has been linked to type 2 diabetes, Warren explains.
How Much Fruit Should You Eat?
Craving your fourth piece of fruit today? Back away. Zeitlin suggests keeping your fruit consumption to two servings of fruit per day, while Warren says you can go up to three. (The USDA generally recommends two cups per day.) “I recommend people eat about six times a day, [keeping] three hours between each [serving of fruit]. That means snacks between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner can include some fruit,” says Warren.
Go easy on the OJ, too. “Juice is liquid, so it doesn’t have to go through as much processing before it hits your bloodstream, where it can spike your sugar levels,” says Warren. If you absolutely love your daily juice and can’t give it up, keep it to a half-cup of watered-down juice per day at the absolute most, says Zeitlin.
“Truthfully, you should give up fruit juice,” she adds. Her reasoning lies in the fact that without the skin of the fruit, your body misses out on the fiber that’s so essential to keeping you full longer and regulating your sugar levels. “The healthiest way to incorporate fruit into your diet is to eat fruit that you are eating the skin of, such as apples or berries, because the majority of fiber in fruit is found in the skin,” says Zeitlin. “Also, pair your fruit with a protein, as the protein-fruit combo will slow down the sugar spike in the blood stream.”
Smoothies are a little better for you, since they’re more likely to be blended with the fruit skins intact. But be wary of how much fruit you’re packing into each frosty glass. “I have people tell me about making smoothies where they’re putting maybe six servings of fruit in without even realizing it,” says Warren.
The Best Fruit for You
Some fruits might give you more of a sugar rush than others. Check out this list of high and low-sugar fruits, courtesy of the USDA National Nutrient Database. Keep in mind that dried fruit usually packs more of a sugary, calorie-dense punch, so stick with fresh options when you can.
Do I Need to Worry About Fructose Intolerance?
Lactose and gluten don’t hold the monopoly on intolerance issues. “Hereditary Fructose Intolerance (HFI) is when an individual lacks an enzyme needed in the body to break down fructose,” says Zeitlin. That means their systems have trouble transforming all stored sugar, known as glycogen, into the glucose that your body uses as energy.
When that happens, your blood sugar drops too low and sugar builds up in the liver, potentially leading to liver disease down the line. “Limiting and avoiding foods with fructose, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup is the best treatment,” says Zeitlin, who notes that approximately 10 percent of the population has symptomatic fructose intolerance. “It is hereditary so if both your parents have HFI you should get the necessary diagnostic blood tests,” she says. That’s especially true if you experience symptoms like bloating, nausea and abdominal pain when you come into contact with fructose.