Will Eating Too Much Fruit Cause Weight Gain?

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 305 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

I will quote Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld here, after a modeling agent told him that he looks very lean:

You know I try to take care of myself. I watch what I eat. Ah, just recently, I cut out fructose.

I remember one of my patients was a big fan of fruit. As I do with all of those I counsel, I asked this person to tell me about the types and quantities of foods they commonly consume. He reached into his lunch bag and proudly pulled out a large plastic container full of chopped fruit. The container held at least 7 cups of chopped fruit.

I said, “Ok, so how long does it take you to finish that fruit?”

His response, “Oh… this is done by mid-morning.”

I had to then explain why his fruit consumption may be a bit much. I will share some of that with you here.

Most people don’t really need to worry about consuming too much fruit each day. That’s because many simply don’t consume enough. Most health agencies agree that adults should consume 5 to 9 combined servings of fruits and vegetables each day. But because of how it’s worded, this recommendation can lead to some confusion. Again, the recommendation is 5 to 9 combined servings of fruits and vegetables each day–the key word being “combined.”

For example, if you ate 3 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables today, you would meet this recommendation: 3 servings of fruit plus 2 servings of vegetables equals 5 servings total. Or theoretically, you could consume 4 servings of fruit and 1 serving of vegetables and still meet this recommendation: 4 plus 1 equals 5.

While I like the spirit behind this suggestion, you can see it’s easy to misinterpret. If you’re consuming 10 servings of fruit each day, you are definitely exceeding this recommendation – but only in the fruit department.

One concern I have is that by consuming so much fruit, it may be replacing other foods in your diet, like vegetables. You may be wondering, “Well, fruit is full of important nutrients, too, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal!” Yes, fruit is full of important vitamins and minerals, but they are found in different quantities when compared to vegetables. You’ve heard me say this phrase before, “Everything in moderation” and fruit is no exception. This is because when we strive for balance and variety in our diets, the nutrients in each food tend to complement each other. We are less likely to get too much of one nutrient and too little of another.

Another concern is the fact that consuming this quantity of fruit may be holding you back when it comes to weight management. This is because the body processes fructose, the main sugar in fruit, differently. The body can actually convert fructose to fat very easily. If you’re consuming whole fruit, you will get some dietary fiber along with that fructose, and the dietary fiber will help slow down the body’s absorption of fructose hopefully making it less likely to be converted to fat. But if you’re consuming 10 or more servings of fruit each day, chances are, even with all of that fiber, your body is still getting lots of fructose, making it more likely that all of that fruit sugar is being converted to fat.

So, yes, it is possible that by consuming 10 or more servings of fruit each day could be making it harder to manage your weight.

I keep saying “10 servings” or “1 serving”– what is 1 serving of fruit, anyway?

Because fruit comes in all shapes and sizes, it’s a bit of a challenge to define a serving for all fruit. So, I’ll give you some general rules to help you:

  • When we’re talking about round fruits like oranges, apples, peaches, nectarines, etc., if the piece of fruit is about the size of your fist, then that counts as 1 serving. If you ate the whole piece, you would have consumed 1 serving of fruit.
  • When it comes to chopped fruit or smaller berries like blueberries, about ½ cup would be 1 serving.
  • Strawberries: about 12 whole strawberries would be 1 serving.
  • Frozen fruit: about ½ cup would be 1 serving, too
  • If you’re eating dried fruit, like dried apricots, raisins, etc. about ¼ of a cup would be 1 serving. This is because dried fruit has much of the water content removed – this means that dried fruit is a more concentrated fruit source. You can consume less and get about the same quantity of nutrients.
  • And lastly, my least preferred form of fruit: fruit juices. One half cup counts as 1 serving. The reason I’m not a big fan of fruit juice is that it is the most concentrated form of fructose. This means the body can easily absorb it which increases the likelihood that it will get converted to fat.

When it comes to fruit alternatives, there aren’t a whole lot unfortunately. I would say consuming whole, fresh, or frozen fruit is the best. Again, this is because by eating whole fruit you will get all of that fiber, too, which will slow down the body’s absorption of that fructose.

I would also recommend cutting back on your fruit intake if you’re getting too many servings – and you can do this slowly, but consider replacing some of that fruit with vegetables that pair well with fruit. For example, mango, red bell pepper, red onion and avocado go nicely together (this is basically the foundation of a mango salsa recipe). By mixing and matching like this, you will decrease some of that fruit and increase your vegetable consumption without sacrificing taste!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 305 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.