“Eat more fruits and vegetables.”
This is probably the world’s most common health recommendation.
Most people know that fruits are healthy because they are whole, unprocessed foods.
Many fruits are also very convenient. Some people call them “nature’s fast food” because they are so easy to carry and prepare.
However, fruits are relatively high in sugar compared to other whole foods.
For this reason, you might wonder whether they are truly healthy after all. This article sheds some light on the subject.
It’s a myth that fruits are loaded with unhealthy sugar
A lot of research suggests that excessive intake of added sugar is harmful (1, 2, 3).
This includes table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup, both of which are about half glucose and half fructose. Fructose, in particular, can have negative effects on your metabolic health when consumed in large amounts (1).
Many people now believe that because added sugars can potentially have negative effects, the same must apply to fruits, which also contain fructose.
However, this is a misconception. Fructose is harmful only in large amounts, and it’s difficult to get excessive amounts of fructose from fruit. For most people, the amount of sugar in fruit is safe to eat.
Evidence suggests that fructose can cause harm when consumed in excess. However, there is not enough fructose in fruit to cause concern.
Fruits take time to chew and digest, which has health benefits
When eating whole fruit, it’s almost impossible to consume enough fructose to cause harm.
Fruits are loaded with fiber and water and have significant chewing resistance. For this reason, most fruits take a while to eat and digest, meaning that the fructose hits your liver slowly.
Fiber doesn’t just slow down your eating. It has many benefits — especially in the case of soluble fiber, which is found in certain whole foods such as fruits. Fiber can reduce cholesterol levels and help your body process sugar, and it may help you feel full (4, 5).
If weight loss is a goal for you, some research also suggests that consuming more fiber may reduce appetite and promote weight loss (6, 7).
Fiber-packed foods like fruit are filling. If you’re hungry for a snack, there’s a good chance you’ll feel satisfied after eating one large Golden Delicious apple, which contains 2 grams of fiber and 22 grams of sugar, 13 of which are fructose (8).
Compare that to a 16-ounce (473-mL) can of soda, which contains 0 grams of fiber and 52 grams of sugar, 30 of which are fructose (9).
Sugary drinks are high in calories but likely to leave you feeling hungry. So they’re not a good alternative to a whole-food snack (10).
Plus, when fructose hits your liver quickly and in large amounts, it can have adverse health effects over time. This is what happens when you drink a soda.
Alternatively, eating a piece of fruit means that fructose hits your liver slowly and in small amounts. In this case, your body is well adapted to digest the fructose.
So, while eating large amounts of added sugar can be harmful for most people, the same does not usually apply to fruit.
Whole fruits contain fiber and take time to chew and digest. Because of this, you feel fuller and your body can easily tolerate the small amounts of fructose.
Fruits contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
Of course, fruits contain much more than just fiber and fructose.
They also have lots of nutrients that are important for health, including vitamins, minerals, and a plethora of antioxidants and other plant compounds.
What’s more, fruits tend to be high in several vitamins and minerals that many people don’t get enough of, including vitamin C, potassium, and folate.
Of course, fruit is an entire food group. There are thousands of different edible fruits found in nature, and their nutrient composition can vary greatly.
So, if you want to maximize the health effects of fruit, focus on “super fruits” that are rich in nutrients. There are healthy fruits to suit all tastes, from apples and strawberries to plums and papayas.
The skin of fruits is usually rich in antioxidants and fiber. Berries, which have more skin, gram for gram, than other fruits, are often considered part of a healthy diet (11).
It’s also a good idea to switch things up and eat a variety of fruits because different fruits contain different nutrients.
Fruits contain large amounts of important nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and various antioxidants and plant compounds.
Research suggests that eating fruit can improve your health
Multiple observational studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of various diseases.
Eating fruit may reduce cardiovascular disease risk
Many studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke — the two leading causes of death in Western countries (12,13, 14).
One review of studies found that each daily portion of fruit consumed reduced the risk of heart disease by 7% (15).
A diet high in fruit could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes
A study including 9,665 U.S. adults found that a high fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a 46% lower risk of diabetes in females. However, in this study, there was no difference in males (16).
A large 2013 study looked at how different types of fruit affect the risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded that people who consumed the most grapes, apples, and blueberries had the lowest risk, with blueberries having the strongest effect (17).
One problem with observational studies is that they cannot prove that the associations they find are direct causal relationships.
However, a few randomized controlled trials (real human experiments) have shown that increased fruit intake can lower blood pressure, reduce oxidative stress, and improve blood sugar regulation in people with diabetes (18, 19).
Overall, it seems clear from the data that fruits have significant health benefits.
Plenty of evidence shows that a high fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Eating fruit can help you lose weight
Fruits are incredibly filling. If you’re trying to lose weight, replacing some of the calorie-dense foods in your diet with lower calorie foods like fruit could help. This could mean reaching for an orange instead of a granola bar during your break time.
In a small 2013 study, participants either ate raw fruits and vegetables or drank juice before meals. Participants with overweight or obesity felt fuller after eating the fruits and vegetables and ate smaller meals. Drinking juice was not as effective as eating fruit and vegetables (20).
Overall, if you’re looking to lose weight, you may find it helpful to increase the amount of fruit in your diet.
You may want to consult a registered dietitian or doctor about making a plan for healthy weight loss. They can help you reduce your consumption of foods with high calories and low nutritional value and replace them with low calorie, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits.
Replacing calorie-dense foods in your diet with lower calorie foods such as fruit may help you lose weight. A doctor or registered dietitian can help you select foods that may contribute to weight loss while giving you the nutrients you need.
When to avoid fruit
Even though fruit can be part of a healthy diet for most people, some may need to avoid it for certain reasons.
One possible reason is a food intolerance or allergy. For example, eating certain fruits may cause digestive symptoms in people who have an intolerance to FODMAPs. It’s also possible to be allergic to certain fruits.
People who are following a very low carb or ketogenic diet may also want to avoid fruit. The main goal of ketogenic diets is to drastically reduce carb intake so that your body will change the way it processes sugars and fat into energy. This shift is called ketosis.
For ketosis to happen, it’s necessary to restrict carbs to less than 50 grams per day, and sometimes to as few as 20 grams per day (21).
Given that a single piece of fruit can contain more than 20 grams of carbs, fruits may be inappropriate for this diet. If you’re planning to follow a very low carb or ketogenic diet, consult a registered dietitian or doctor to find out which fruits may be appropriate for you to eat.
You may have heard that people with diabetes should avoid fruit, but this is a myth (22).
In fact, fruit is a healthy choice for people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, just make sure you track the fruits you eat in your meal plan, as you would any other food.
You may need to avoid fruit if you have a food allergy or intolerance or are following a very low carb or ketogenic diet.
Fruit juices and dried fruits should be limited
Whole fruits are very healthy for most people, but it’s best to avoid replacing fruits with fruit juice or dried fruit.
Even if you get 100% real fruit juice, keep your intake moderate. Fruit juice has a lot of sugar — about as much as a sugar-sweetened beverage.
Because juice has no fiber and does not require chewing resistance to slow down consumption, it’s easy to take in a large amount of sugar in a short time.
In general, dried fruits are low in water and can be very concentrated. Because they’re small, it’s often easy to eat large amounts of them — more than you would if you were eating the fresh version. But dried fruit is a portable food that keeps well, and it’s better than no fruit at all.
Fruit smoothies can be healthy since they typically include whole fruit, but the overall nutritional value depends on what else you add. Blending pieces of whole fruit with water or ice may be a great fiber-filled alternative to drinking store-bought fruit juice.
Fruit juice and dried fruits can be part of a healthy diet, but they aren’t the same as whole fruit. You may want to be mindful of portion sizes, as it’s easy to consume lots of these foods quickly.
What are the healthiest fruits? There are lots of different ways to answer that question.
Because most people in the United States don’t eat enough fruit, the healthiest fruits could be any fruits at all — as long as you’re finding ways to add more of them to your diet (23).
This can mean choosing fruits that are affordable and easy to find. Try to choose fruits you’ll enjoy eating. Eating a variety of fruits is a great way to make sure you’re covering your nutritional needs.
If you’re following a special diet, ask a doctor or dietitian about how to choose the best fruits for your needs.
Here are five healthy fruits that also happen to be lower cost options:
Watermelon is typically one of the lowest priced fruits, pound for pound, especially if you purchase it during its summer harvest season.
It’s a crunchy treat when it’s cut into wedges or cubes. You can also put watermelon in a blender to make a fresh juice.
Bananas are a quick and easy source of energy. You can eat them on the go or cut them up to top a slice of toast with peanut butter.
And if you have bananas that have been sitting on the counter a little too long, they don’t have to go to waste. You can use them to make banana bread or another baked treat.
Like bananas, oranges are amazingly portable as a snack. You can also cut a whole orange into wedges, put them in the freezer, and pull out the frozen wedges to eat on a hot day.
Canned mandarin oranges in juice are usually affordable and easy to find in stores. They’re quick to prepare too. You can eat them right out of the package or use them to top salads or yogurt.
A whole, unpeeled apple is usually more filling than apple juice or applesauce because it’s higher in fiber. You can use slices of apple with the peel (skin) as a topping for oatmeal or enjoy them with a snack of cheese and crackers.
You can also leave the peel on when making baked goods such as muffins that include finely chopped apples. If you don’t mind smaller pieces of apple in your recipe, you can even grate your apple with a cheese grater.
Cantaloupe is a rich source of vitamin A. One cup of cubed cantaloupe contains 30% of the DV (24).
Cantaloupe is a classic fruit salad ingredient for other reasons, too. By weight, it tends to be less pricey than other fruits. And because a cantaloupe is relatively large, it goes a long way when feeding a crowd.
Because it’s so sweet, cantaloupe pairs surprisingly well with spicy, salty flavors. You might have tried this combo on watermelon, but you can also pair sliced cantaloupe with lime juice and a bit of chili-lime seasoning. Add fresh mint, too, if you have it.
The bottom line
Fruit is healthy for most people.
While excessive sugar intake can be harmful, this doesn’t apply to whole fruits. Rather, they are high in nutrients and satisfyingly filling.
If you can tolerate fruit and you’re not on a low carb or ketogenic diet, by all means, eat fruit.
Try eating more whole fruits as part of a healthy, whole-foods diet to enjoy their health benefits.
Just one thing
Chances are, you probably aren’t getting enough fruit in your diet. In 2019, only about 12% of U.S. adults were eating the daily recommended amount of fruit (23).
Sometimes, the answer isn’t as simple as reaching for a banana instead of a candy bar. Depending on where you live, it can be hard to access fresh, healthy foods like fruit.
Check out this article to learn more about food deserts, and the solutions people are working on to make a difference.