Research has linked fruit consumption to a number of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Increased fruit consumption has even been linked to a lower body weight and reduced risk of obesity-related diseases.[i]
The USDA recommends consuming one to 2.5 cups of fruit a day, which, depending on what type you choose, will not only give you valuable nutrients … it will also give you a hefty dose of sugar.
But does this really matter?
Some experts do believe that limiting fruit sugar in your diet is crucial for avoiding chronic disease.
The primary sugar in fruit is fructose, a substance that’s been shown to slow your brain function, hinder memory and learning, contribute to weight gain and type 2 diabetes, and much more. But most fructose in the US diet comes in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, particularly in soda and other sugary beverages.
Is eating a piece of high-sugar fruit really as bad as drinking a high-sugar soda?
In a word … no. A case can be made for limiting your daily sugar from fruit – but this would typically be if you are facing certain health challenges or consuming a lot of fruit each day. The sugar in fruit is not added sugar like the sugar in soda … it’s part of the whole fruit matrix – and that’s what makes the difference.
Even Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who is one of the most well known anti-sugar experts (who has called sugar “toxic” and noted that fructose is the worst sugar of all), is not against eating whole fruit.
The Sugar in Fruit is Tempered by Built-In Fiber
Whole fruit contains fiber, which Dr. Lustig says is “the reason to eat fruit.”[ii] Not only does fiber make you feel full, it slows the release of sugar in your body, which helps taper much of the damage. The fiber in fruit can also beneficially influence the bacteria living in your intestines, helping to improve you intestinal flora.
So, comparing the sugar in soda to the sugar in apples is not comparing, well, apples to apples. Consuming four apples actually has the same amount of sugar as 24 ounces of soda,[iii] but it will be far less damaging to your health when consumed in the fiber-rich fruit.
Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, told the New York Times:[iv]
“You can’t just take an 8-ounce glass of cola and add a serving of Metamucil and create a health food … Even though the fructose-to-fiber ratio might be the same as an apple, the biological effects would be much different” … Fiber provides “its greatest benefit when the cell walls that contain it remain intact,” he said.
Sugars are effectively sequestered in the fruit’s cells, he explained, and it takes time for the digestive tract to break down those cells. The sugars therefore enter the bloodstream slowly, giving the liver more time to metabolize them … the slow rate of absorption minimizes any surge in blood sugar. Repeated surges in blood sugar make the pancreas work harder and can contribute to insulin resistance, thereby increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes.”
So the general consensus is that the valuable nutrients in whole fruit far outweigh its natural sugar content (this is not the case for fruit juice, however, which has the beneficial fiber removed). That being said … you definitely don’t want to overdo fruit, as it can easily drive your sugar intake sky high – to the point that it will probably start to negate some of the benefits.
Generally, the sweeter a fruit tastes, the more sugar it contains (nature works well that way in giving you a built in ‘clue’). More sour or tart fruits will be lower in sugar. If you’re trying to strictly limit the sugar in your diet, stick with the fruits that follow, which have the lowest sugar content of them all. (We’ve left out lemons and limes, which each have just over 1 gram of sugar in a whole fruit.)
The 5 Lowest Sugar Fruits …
4. Blackberries: 7 grams of sugar in a cup
3. Raspberries: 5 grams of sugar in a cup
2. Cranberries: 4 grams of sugar in a cup
1. Avocado: 1 gram of sugar in a whole avocado