Fruit: How Much is Too Much?

Low carbohydrate and low sugar diets have taken over the dieting world, and now are much more popular than low-fat diets for weight management. If you have Diabetes or have tried to manage your weight, you know already that too much sugar won’t do your mind or body any favors. And fruit, known as nature’s candy, is often the first to blame. Let's take a look at three common beliefs about the sugar in fruit — and what you need to know before you reach for your next banana.

"Fruit is high in sugar."

Yes, it is. A large banana, at 17 grams of sugar, has almost as much sugar as a Kit Kat Bar (22 grams). However, the nutrition label paints an incomplete picture — you see total sugar but not added sugar, which is the kind doctors and Dietitians say we should limit. Fresh fruit has zero added sugar. It’s also packed with valuable nutrients like vitamins A, C, folate, potassium, fiber and other antioxidants. So yes, it has sugar, but it also has benefits that processed foods are missing. In addition, the type of sugar in fruit raises the blood sugars in a more stable fashion and at a slightly slower rate than processed sugars.

"Sugar is sugar. Your body processes it the same way."

True. It doesn’t matter if glucose (sugar) comes from soda or an orange — they both spike blood sugar. In a healthy individual, it’s normal for blood sugar to rise after eating these carbs. The body works a bit more to release insulin in response to glucose in the blood to blood sugars back to regular levels. When you have diabetes, your body can't absorb the sugar in foods as well, so your blood sugars spike fast when you eat something sweet. For that reason, eating more than 1 serving of fruit at a time, or around 15 grams of carbohydrate, is probably too much. For most fruit, a serving is around 1/2 cup, but for for some fruits, like melon, papaya, or berries, the serving size is closer to 1 cup.

"All sugar is bad for you, right?"

Fruit contains a combination of glucose and fructose, a type of sugar that’s processed exclusively by the liver. Eating too much fructose in a short time frame can be harmful since the liver converts it into fat and stores it. So too much fruit can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, leading to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. While that might sound scary, it’s harder to overeat fructose than you think. The liver won’t turn fructose into fat unless:

  1. You’d have to surpass your calorie goal, and
  2. eat a lot of your calories from carbohydrates already.

A study found adults eating 100–150 grams of fructose per day increased their blood triglycerides, or free fatty acids in the blood.

The Bottom Line

Don’t ignore the evidence that fruit helps with weight control, heart disease, diabetes and more. Rather than obsessing over the sugar in fruit, focus on eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes a mix of colors and food groups and minimizes added sugar. For example, avoid sweetened foods like cereals, sweet drinks and yogurts, but eat some fruit instead. When you do eat fruit, limit it to 1 serving at a time, for a snack around 2-3 times per day. Aim to have more of other carbohydrates that are more filling with your meal instead, like wheat bread, beans, brown rice, or pasta.