A red, shiny apple has become the most popular emblem for healthy eating. So why are there so many mixed messages, especially online, about whether or not you should have fruit at all when you’re trying to lose weight? Turns out, the answer isn’t black and white—it’s not “go crazy” and it’s not “go cold turkey”, but somewhere in between.
Fruit has gotten a bad rap in some circles because it’s high in a natural sugar called fructose and rich in carbohydrates. So people who are severely restricting carbs (something I don’t recommend!) may consider fruit off-limits, especially certain kinds of fruit like bananas that are higher in carbs than others. It’s also true that fruit tends to pack more calories and carbs than non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and leafy greens do, serving for serving.
But fruit is also loaded with nutrients the body needs to strengthen the immune system, beneficial plant compounds that fight disease, and fiber that can help lower cholesterol and keep you satisfied.
So what’s the best approach? If you’re trying to drop some pounds in the year ahead, here’s how you can happily enjoy fruit and still meet your goals:
Choose whole fruit. As much as possible, go for the whole piece of fruit over juice. Whole fruit contains fiber and fluid that are naturally filling, which is why you’re so full after eating an apple but not particularly satisfied after drinking a cup of apple juice. Fresh, whole fruit also has a low “glycemic load”, which means it won’t spike your blood sugar after eating it—and blood sugar spikes and dips can leave you feeling zapped and hungry. Opt for fresh over dried fruit too. Dried fruit is a highly concentrated source of natural sugar (and often added sugar too), as well as calories. It’s also easy to overeat.
Balance it out. Adults should aim for about two servings of fruit a day. That’s about two medium pieces of fresh fruit. Some days you may eat more, others less, but that’s a good general rule to keep in mind. Pairing those servings of fruit with a protein or healthy fat can make your snacks more satisfying (like pears and cheese or apples slices with nut butter), and you can use fruit to make already healthy foods even more appealing, like a fruit salsa served on top of chicken or fish, or fresh fruit added to big veggie salads.
Be smarter about smoothies. I love smoothies as much as the next dietitian. But the truth is, it’s easy to load smoothies full of fruit and juice—meaning hundreds of calories for a drink that doesn’t have a lot of staying power. You can bring a better balance to your smoothies by using a serving or two of whole fruit, skipping the juice, and including veggies and greens, like this Green Detox Juice. Even better, include a protein source such as milk, yogurt, or nuts too, like this Shamrock Smoothie or Chocolate Peanut Butter Recovery Smoothie.
Don’t believe the hype. Avoid diet plans that require cutting out fruit or warn against certain kinds of fruit. Any diet that calls for eliminating whole food groups or lists of foods likely isn’t healthy or sustainable in the long run.
If you need more convincing to keep fresh, yummy fruit in your diet, consider this: Research shows that people who eat fruit actually weigh less than people who don’t!