Strawberries, bananas, oranges, kiwi… the list goes on and on. Fruit is touted as a super-healthy snack option, but while the fiber and other nutrients found in fruit are a great part of any diet, many varieties can also be very high in sugar. And too much sugar, regardless of where it comes from, can have some seriously negative effects. (Yep, even if that sugar is from fruit!) Does this mean run from the produce aisle screaming? Definitely not. But it might be smart to keep an eye on fruit-based sugar consumption.
Can Fruit Make You Fat? The Need-to-Know
The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons (about 24 grams) of added sugar per day for women, or nine teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men. And for men and women ages 19 to 30, the USDA recommends two cups of fruit per day. But depending on which fruit is picked, this could be bad news for fruit lovers: Just two cups of sliced bananas adds up to the maximum recommended amount, clocking in at 36 grams of sugar.
So other than extra calories, what else does too much sugar mean? Excessive amounts could lead to tooth decay, weight gain, and increased triglyceride levels (which may contribute to heart disease and high cholesterol) Triglycerides and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Assocation. Miller, M., Stone, N.J., Ballantyne, C., et al. University of Maryland, MD. Circulation, 2011 May 24;125(20):2292-333.. Some studies suggest fructose, the main type of sugar found in fruit, can even be more harmful than other sugars (namely glucose). Fructose has even been linked to increased belly fat, slowed metabolism, and overall weight gain Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. Stanhope, K.L., Schwarz, J.M., Keim, N.L., et al. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2009 May;119(5):1322-34. Dietary fructose and risk of metabolic syndrome in adults: Tehran Lipid and Glugose study. Hosseini-Esfahani, F., Bahadoran, Z., Mirmiran, P., et al. Department of Clinical Nutrition Dietetics, Faculty of Nutrition Sciences and Food Technology, National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2011 Jul 12;8(1):50. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. Teff, K.L., Elliott, S.S., Tschop, M., et al. Monell Chemical Senses Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2004 Jun;89(6):2963-72..
Fruit-tastic—Your Action Plan
Traditionally, a diet high in fruits and vegetables has been shown to help prevent weight gain (when compared to a diet high in fiber from other foods) Association of fiber intake and fruit/vegetable consumption with weight gain in a Mediterranean population. Bes-Rastrollo, M., Martinez-Gonzalex, M.A., Sanchez-Villegas, A., et al. Nutrition. 2006;22(5):504-11.. Although fruits can hold three times more calories per serving when compared to vegetables, they’re still a relatively low-calorie choice, especially when considering how good fruit's high water and fiber content are at promoting feelings of fullness What can intervention studies tell us about the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and weight management? Rolls, B.J., Ello-Martin, J.A., Tohill, B.C. Nutrition Reviews. 2004 Jan;62(1):1-17..
With a sugar-conscious mind, here's a closer look at how each fruit stacks up in terms of the sweet stuff.
The important thing to remember: Too many calories from anything, including fruit, can lead to weight gain and other negative health effects. While the USDA recommends the average person stick to about two cups of fruit per day, it’s best to stick with fresh or frozen. Beware of packaged or canned fruit (dangerfood!) and fruit juices, which can have high amounts of sugar, even if the package says “light syrup” (one container of apple sauce has only 100 calories, but packs in 23 grams of sugar!).
Originally posted March 2012, updated June 2014.