Don't be scared of fruit!

“Fruit is full of sugar”

“I’ve given up sugar and therefore fruit”

“You shouldn’t eat fruit at night”

These are regular cries that I get to hear as a nutritional therapist, and the majority of the time it’s from someone who is trying to lose weight, or from someone who’s decided to quit sugar in a bid to get healthier and thrown fruit out with it.

SO, let’s start with the basics … yes fruit contains sugar, fructose to be precise, but it is also packed jam full of all important fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Sugar is sugar, and we all know that too much sugar can lead to weight gain but could also affect blood sugar levels, increase the risk of type 2 Diabetes, and conditions such as hypertension, fatty liver disease and potentially cancer. However, I worry more about the artificial sweeteners, fizzy drinks, added sugars and products such as agave syrup rather than an old-fashioned piece of fruit.

On the flip side … a study[1] just last year found that apples can induce substantial changes in the gut microbiota which could have potential human health benefits, and blueberries may improve blood pressure[2]. Whereas citrus fruits contain certain compounds that could have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, cardiovascular protective and neuroprotective benefits.[3]

Are you sure you want to be cutting fruit out of your diet completely?!

The trick is how you eat fruit so that you can get the full nutritional benefits but reduce the impact on blood sugars.  So, here’s my top tips on keeping fruit in your diet so you reap the benefits without the worry about the sugar:

Two fruits, three veg

The NHS[4] recommends eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (or 400g worth).  There have been some claims about how this should be 10 portions a day[5], but that even 2.5 portions a day (200g) still has some benefits, so let’s stick to five, and make two of the five portions fruit and the remaining three vegetable.

Eat fruit with protein

This could be nuts, seeds, nut butter, protein powder or yoghurt, but essentially the protein helps to slow down the release of sugar preventing spikes in insulin.

Eat fruit with its skin on

The skin of fruit actually contains most of the goodness, including important phytochemicals as well as fibre.  Fibre helps slow down the release of sugar, like protein, but the phytochemicals have a whole host of benefits and are rich in antioxidants that help fight certain conditions such as cancer, but also keep wrinkles at bay.

Juice fruit with vegetables

If you love juicing or making a smoothie, then add some veg in with the fruit.  A big handful of spinach is always a good shout as the taste isn’t strong enough to overpower the sweetness of the fruit.  Personally, I prefer smoothies over juices so you still get the fibre benefits, and whatever you do, do not pick up a pre-made smoothie or juice (unless it has been made in the last hour or cold pressed).  Once fruit has been blended, you have started the fermentation process and the longer it sits on the shelf, the higher the sugar content.

Don’t go mad on dried fruit or fruit bars

These do tend to be higher in sugar, and watch out for some brands that have actually been ‘infused’ in fruit juice to make them sweeter!  Like fresh fruit, eat them with some protein and save the fruit bars for emergency snacks rather than a daily treat

Add fruit to a salad

Throw some blueberries, pomegranate seeds, avocado (yes, it is a fruit) or watermelon over a salad for a fresh fruit hit, and add protein for extra blood sugar balancing such as chicken, fish, eggs, houmous, quinoa or even pumpkin seeds, as well as a good glug of extra virgin olive oil for some good fats!

Eat seasonally (or buy frozen)

We’ve become accustomed to eating strawberries all year round, but technically British strawberries are a summer fruit.  Ideally, we would all eat seasonally but if you fancy some blueberries but know it’s the wrong time of year then buy frozen, as this way the nutrients have been persevered a bit more than fresh that has been flown hundreds of miles. (It’s potentially better for the environment too).

Organic, if not wash it!

Ideally yes, I am all for organic food but it comes with a price tag and I would rather people got their five a day than not at all.  So, if you can’t buy organic then wash your fruit really well. You can also use Dr Bronner Sal Suds (this stuff is brilliant and can be used for cleaning and washing too!),  or vinegar (3 part vinegar and 1 part water and leave it to soak for five minutes).  Just make sure you always rinse well!

And as for when you should eat fruit, there is no evidence that eating fruit on an empty stomach or avoiding eating it after a meal has any impact on digestion.  However, some of us do find that eating certain fruits can cause bloating and that may actually be down to our gut and certain imbalances such as IBS.  In this case it is generally best avoided or look at the low FODMAP diet to help you eliminate the triggers.  For example, some people find stewed apple is fine but raw apple isn’t. 

But either way, please keep eating fruit!