The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines suggest that Americans should eat about two cups of fruit (that's the equivalent of a large banana and half of a large apple) in their daily diet. However, Malina Malkani, RDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of Solve Picky Eating, says there's a very real reason many of us are confused about the nutritional fortitude of fruit: It stems (pardon the pun) from the widespread demonizing of sugar.
"Sugar gets a bad rap, in part because added sugars are often excessively present in processed foods, and it’s easy to get confused because fruit does contain sugar," says Malkani. "But the nutrient profiles of fruits—which include naturally- occurring sugars that provide energy and are accompanied by vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber—are keenly different than the refined sugars added to processed foods to increase their palatability and shelf life."
For more info on sugar—the good, bad, and the ugly—check out this video with intel from a top RD:
TL; DR: Sugar content alone is not a reason to skip out on your two cups of fruit. However, there are some compelling digestive reasons not to eat the whole GD pineapple (I learned this the hard way). Below, Malkani and other dietitians talk about how much fruit is too much.
Can you eat too much fruit? Dietitians answer
The simple answer is, yep. "Yes, it’s possible to eat too much of any food—including fruit, although excess fruit intake is rarely an issue for most people," says Malkani. "Risks associated with excess fruit intake include stomach discomfort, diarrhea, bloating, heartburn, and potential nutrient deficiencies if excess fruit is replacing other important nutrients in the diet."
"It’s possible to eat too much of any food—including fruit, although excess fruit intake is rarely an issue for most people." —Malina Malkani, RDN
Also, from an absorption standpoint, Shena Jaramillo, RD, notes that it's important to remember that your body can only take in so much of the goodness of fruit in one sitting. "It's great to get a variety of fruits daily, but once our bodies acquire the essential nutrients they need from it, there really is not a benefit to having more," she says. (You don't need to triple up on oranges to triple your vitamin C intake, for example, because your body can only take in so much at once.) Instead, focus on making your two cups of fruit as colorful as possible, then move onto your other favorite foods. (You know: pasta, cauliflower pizza, etc.)
Both dietitians note that those with diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels should consult a registered dietitian or their physician if they feel unsure about how much fruit is appropriate for their diets, since they have to be more mindful than others about any kind of sugar consumption. As always, it can't hurt to ask!
The serving sizes of some of your favorite fruits
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), your daily allotment of two cups can come in the form of fresh, frozen, dried, canned, pre-cut, or pureed fruit. If you're channeling your inner-baby and pureeing all your vitamins in smoothies, you might not find it that hard to measure out two cups of apple, blackberries, or some combo. If you're enjoying more adult forms, of fruit, however, it's not that easy to eyeball serving size. For reference:
- One cup apple is equal to 1/2 of a large apple
- One cup of banana is equal to one large banana
- One cup of grapes is the equivalent of 32 seedless grapes
- One cup of grapefruit equals one medium grapefruit
- One cup of orange is the equivalent of one large orange
- One cup of plums is the equivalent of three medium-sized plums
- One cup of strawberries is equal to eight large strawberries
You can find a more exhaustive list of fruit serving sizes here.
The nutritional benefits of eating the right amounts of your favorite kinds of fruit
It would take me pretty much the rest of my life to tell you all the benefits of the fruit. (A sacrifice I would gladly make except for that means never eating mango again myself.) The best of the best are definitely worth covering, though.
1. Fruit Is rich in satiating fiber
"Fruit contains fiber which helps slow the rate of the absorption of fructose, the main type of sugar found in fruit, into your bloodstream. This is good because it helps prevent the surges in blood sugar that when repeated, can over time lead to insulin-resistance and increase risk for type 2 diabetes," says Malkani.
If you've enjoyed fruit in your oatmeal, you've probably also experienced its satiating superpowers. "The fiber in fruit helps us feel fuller longer," says Malkani. "It also contributes to the good bacteria in our intestines, which in turn contributes to better gut health." That means more poops and better overall digestion. Who could complain?
A few fruits come out on top when it comes to fiber content. Raspberries contain about eight grams per cup, a medium pear has about six grams, an apple contains five grams, and bananas, oranges, and strawberries all contain about three grams for their respective serving sizes. Design your fruit salad accordingly.
2. It's super hydrating
Fruit may be something you eat, but your body processes it a whole lot like it would a glass of water. "Wild blueberries are about 86 percent water, as are apples. Fresh cherries are 82 percent water, and even a banana is 75 percent water," says registered dietitian Amy Gorin, RDN. Especially if you wake up in the morning feel thirsty, fruit is a really good addition to whatever breakfast your making for yourself—whether it's oatmeal with banana, Greek yogurt with blueberries, or protein pancakes with strawberries.
3. Fruit offers a diverse range of vitamins and minerals
A late 2018 study, which looked at the gut health of 11,000 participants, found that the healthiest folks eat more than 30 different types of plants each week. A diverse diet, researchers found, equals a diverse helping of vitamins and minerals—and fruit can be an instrumental part of that.
"All of fruit's nutrients are essential in optimal functions of body systems." —Shena Jaramillo, RD
For example, says Jaramillo: "Some nutrients we might find in fruit include vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin K, manganese, and vitamin E. All of fruit's nutrients are essential in optimal functions of body systems. Important electrolytes such as potassium are also essential in renal and cardiovascular function."
Long story short: It's possible to go overboard on any food, fruit included. As long as you're sticking with the USDA-recommended two cups per day, though, you should not experience the possible stomach discomfort, bloating, or diarrhea that can come from, for example, eating half a watermelon (again, been there). Fruit is a delicious and vitamin-rich addition to any meal you want to make a bit more satiating and sweet. So serve up your two cups in everything from oatmeal to salad, and count the berries, citrus, and more a win for your entire body.
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