Can Fruit Make You Fat? The Answer is Yes But No

There is strong scientific evidence suggesting that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables has a positive effect on health and is negatively associated with risk of developing chronic diseases. It is also true, however, that fruit consumption is frequently associated with body fat and weight gain, and, for this reason, fruits are often excluded from low-calorie diets, aimed at weight loss.

But is it really true that fruit is bad for weight loss and you can get fat from fruit?

Let’s find out together!

What Main Nutrients Are Contained in Fruits?

Fruits are a heterogeneous group of exclusively plant-based foods, containing different types of nutrients and bioactive compounds.

From an energy point of view, fruit intake comes mainly from sugars, in particular fructose, while the content in lipids and proteins is minimal. Despite this, there are certain types of fruits (such as coconut or avocado), in which the main macronutrients are lipids, or others, such as tomato or cucumber, which have a nutritional composition similar to that of vegetables. These are considered fruits from a botanical point of view, but they are quite different from sugary fruits and therefore represent an exception. We consider avocado like nuts, and we consider tomato, or cucumber as greens.

From a nutritional point of view, therefore, fruits are vegetal foods with an energy power deriving mainly from sugars, like banana, watermelon, mango, apple, orange, grapefruit, etc. -- all fruits that taste sweet.

How Fruits Effect On Our Bodies?

It is, in particular, their sugar content that makes fruit the subject of discussion talking about weight and body fat gain. Fructose, although it does not have a direct effect on blood sugar, indirectly stimulates the production of insulin, with a risk of increased inflammation and body fat. Deleterious effects of high fructose intake on body weight, insulin sensitivity/glucose homeostasis, dyslipidemia, and atherosclerotic disease have been identified, and potential mechanisms are well documented.

Beyond sugars, fruits provide a range of nutrients and different bioactive compounds including phytochemicals (phenolics, flavonoids, carotenoids), vitamins (vitamin C, folate, pro-vitamin A), minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium), and fibers. One of the hypotheses about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables is attributed to the synergy or interactions of these bioactive compounds and other nutrients in whole foods. 

The most important groups of dietary phytochemicals can be divided into general categories as phenolics, alkaloids, nitrogen-containing compounds, organosulfur compounds, phytosterols, and carotenoids. These compounds defend plant organisms from external aggressions and give to the fruits different colors. The most studied groups of dietary phytochemicals related to human health and well-being are phenolics and carotenoids. Carotenoids, for example, are present in greater quantities in orange fruits (like mango), while other compounds, such as anthocyanins, have a purple color (like berries or grapefruit).

These compounds exert an antioxidant action and help us to counteract the production of free radicals and therefore oxidative stress. For this reason, they can have a beneficial effect on our health.

Many epidemiological studies have examined the role of phytochemicals and increased dietary intake of fruits and vegetables in the prevention of cardiovascular and cancer disease.

Fruits are also a good source of minerals like potassium or vitamins, for example, vitamin C which is an essential nutrient and plays an important function in collagen synthesis to prevent scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency disease. Vitamin C is also an excellent antioxidant to scavenge free radicals and to prevent oxidative stress.

Evidence of the beneficial health effects of consuming adequate levels of whole fruits has been related also to their bioactive fibers prebiotic effects, and its role in improved weight control, wellness, and healthy aging. These potential health benefits include protecting colonic gastrointestinal health (constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and diverticular disease), promoting long-term weight management, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. 

The most extensively studied fruit fibers prebiotic component is pectin, which comprises on average 35% of fruit fibers cell wall content. Overall, studies find that fruit fibers, especially pectin, can help re-balance the colonic microbiota towards a higher anti-inflammatory profile. Pectin is a major fruit prebiotic that has been extensively studied and shown to promote a healthy, anti-inflammatory colonic microbiota ecosystem with greater microflora diversity than other types of fibers.

Also remember that fibers slow down sugar absorption prevents blood glucose spikes, and helps maintain a sense of satiety.

So is Fruit Bad for Weight Loss?

At this point, you will be even more confused! Fruits contain sugars, so they can make you fat, but it also contains many beneficial substances and fibres, which can help us keep weight under control.

Where is the truth? Do fruits make you fat or help lose weight?

To answer this question, it is once again important to use common sense: the truth, as often happens, lies in the middle.

Exceeding in the consumption of daily fruit means exceeding with the recommended amount of sugars. In fact, remember that the amount of sugars consumed within a day should not exceed 10% of the total carbohydrates. For this reason, international guidelines recommend the consumption of two to three fruits per day, specifying to consume seasonal fruits (richer from a nutritional point of view) and whole, because, unlike fruit juices, it contains fibers.

So the answer is: too much fruit CAN make you fat or prevent weight loss. Eating fruits in moderation, however, will not make you gain fat, and has sufficient and proven health benefits. 

Heathiest fruits for weight loss are those richer in fibers, which slows down the absorption of sugars and keeps blood sugar under control. Eating fruit with peel, when possible, slows down the absorption of sugars even more: the apple peel, for example, is rich in pectin.

An excess of sugary fruits, like bananas or grapes, but above all of fruit juices, poor in fibers, on the other hand, could instead lead to a rapid increase in blood sugars levels and be counterproductive when following a well-balanced diet, finalized to weight loss. For this reason, it is better to respect the amount of about 2-3 servings of fruit per day, consuming it preferably whole and not in the form of juices.

Does this mean that a banana or grape can make you fat? No! If you respect the recommended portions.

Remember, in fact, that there are no foods that make you gain weight or foods that make you lose weight: a balanced diet complete with healthy nutrients is the best choice to maintain an optimal state of well-being and keep weight under control.

Author: Francesca Deriu, Nutritionist at Minutro

Further Reading:

Mark L. Dreher, Whole Fruits and Fruit Fiber Emerging Health Effects. Nutrients 2018, 10, 1833

Rui Hai Liu, Health-Promoting Components of Fruits and Vegetables in the Diet. American Society for Nutrition. Adv. Nutr. 4: 384S–392S, 2013

Joanne L. Slavin and Beate Lloyd, Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables. American Society for Nutrition. Adv. Nutr. 3: 506–516, 2012

Luc Tappy And Kim-Anne Le, Metabolic Effects of Fructose and the Worldwide Increase in Obesity. Physiol Rev 90: 23–46, 2010

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