With the recent arrival of Spring and summer just around the corner, unlimited fruit themed smoothies, salads, gazpachos and desserts will be offered and craved. But if you’re trying to lose weight, do you need to avoid or limit your fruit intake? How much fruit is too much? Is there even such a thing?
There’s a lot of conflicting information about fruit and nutrition, leaving many of us confused. The bottom line: You can eat too much of a good thing, even when it comes to something as health-promoting as fruit. Here’s how to keep a healthy habit from turning harmful:
Scale down on size: Bigger is not always better, especially when watching your waistline. Buying the largest apple or bunch of bananas can work against your weight loss goals.
Fruit is the best dietitian-approved snack and serves as a vehicle for vitamins, minerals and fiber. But it is also a source of carbohydrates, sugar and calories, which when consumed in excess, may be a contributing factor to weight gain.
I recommend buying the smallest fruit available to help keep portion size in perspective. You want to aim for 2-4 servings of fruit a day, keeping in mind your activity levels. But if your banana is larger than your cellphone (which most are), you could be eating a double portion from just one piece.
Don’t carb alone: Have you ever polished off a big bowl of fruit only to be hungry again within the hour? This is likely caused by eating too much sugar in one sitting, which may lead to other cravings, such as salty and high fat foods. I recommend pairing a fruit with a source of protein such as nuts, seeds, a hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt to help mitigate the effects that blood sugar and insulin spikes have on your appetite.
My favorite mid-afternoon snack is half a cup of berries mixed with Greek yogurt and almond butter. Other balanced, fruit-centered snacks include:
Hard-boiled egg and two clementines
Cottage cheese, flax seeds and berries
Epic Jerky and six strawberries
Choose whole fruit over dried fruit: Not all fruits are created equal. There are some fruits that are naturally higher in sugar, specifically fruit in its dried form. When you dehydrate fruit, the natural sugars are concentrated into a much smaller package, leading some people to consume a lot more sugar and calories than intended.
To put this into perspective, one cup of grapes offers 23 grams of natural sugar and about 100 calories. However, one cup of raisins contains 100 grams of natural sugar and around 500 calories.
If dried fruit is the only way you’ll actually eat fruit, then at least opt for no added sugar varieties. Be sure to reference the serving size listed on the label and only consume one portion.
Eat seasonally when possible: It’s actually best to eat a variety of different fruits by trying new ones throughout the seasons. Variety ensures you get a mix of nutrients instead of the same nutrients day in and day out. Buying in season also means fresher and cheaper fruit.
Fruits that are in season from April-August (with suggested serving size):
Pineapple (¾ cup)
Strawberries (1 ¼ cup or six whole strawberries)
Mango (¾ cup or ½ of a medium mango)
Cherries (12 cherries)
Blackberries (3/4 cup)
Raspberries (¾ cup)
Kiwi (1 medium kiwi)
Peaches (1 medium peach)
Watermelon (1 ¼ cup cubes or 1 slice-13.5 oz.)
Timing matters: It is important to eat a healthy amount of carbs to properly fuel the activity of your cells. When you eat more carbs (fruits, in this case) than you can burn, the surplus can either feed existing fat, or increase your body fat stores.
To help your body use carbohydrates more efficiently, eat fruit first thing in the morning, between lunch and dinner or directly before you’re going to be active, so you’ll use the carbs for fuel.
Use fruit as your dessert at night? Obviously you’re a lot better off eating a piece of fresh fruit than a brownie, but I suggest limiting this ritual to every other night and sticking to a ½ cup portion size. If weight loss is truly your goal, set a rule of no fruit after dinner.
Bottom line: Stop demonizing a perfectly healthy food and instead practice being mindful of the form, portion size and frequency of consumption when enjoying fruits natural sweetness this spring and summer.
Theresa Shank, RD, LDN, is a Philadelphia based registered dietitian and the founder of Philly Dietitian.