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Can Eating Too Much Fruit Pose a Health Risk?

Dr Wayne Osborne

Much of what we witness in popular discourse extols the virtues of fruit. A rich source of vital nutrients, fruit can reduce the likelihood of stroke, heart attack, diabetes and countless other illnesses when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

But is it possible to eat too much fruit?

Like so many other discussions surrounding food that have taken place in recent years, it’s not a simple one with a straight answer.

In short, it depends on what type of fruit and who’s eating it.

The sugar question

The health risks of high sugar consumption are well known.

Eating too much in too short a space of time can cause hormone levels to spike, immediately triggering a plethora of uncomfortable symptoms; while habitual over consumption can contribute to an overall increased likelihood of long term illnesses.

Sugar from fruit, or fructose, doesn’t metabolise in the body in quite the same way as ‘added sugars’ found in confectionery, or those found in starchy carbohydrates such as rice and white bread.

These types of sugars are converted into glucose in the body, and taken up in the gut before being converted into energy in the bloodstream; persistently high glucose levels can of course lead to high blood sugar, which causes issues with insulin production from the pancreas (and eventually, type-2 diabetes).

Fructose is slightly different. This type of sugar is processed in the liver, and too much of it can put pressure on hepatic function. Furthermore, the body will also convert excess fructose into visceral fat if it cannot use it, which is obviously a prevalent risk factor for type-2 diabetes.

Typically, the amount of fructose contained in whole fruits is low. To reach levels which would pose hepatic problems, a person would have to consume whole fruits in volumes which are perhaps unrealistic.

However, it’s when fructose is consumed from fruit concentrate, which contains much higher amounts, that it can cause the problems described above.

As if to demonstrate this difference, one study has found that while an increase in whole fruit consumption has been associated with a lowered risk of diabetes, an increase in fruit juice consumption has been associated with an elevated risk.

Many health experts therefore advise against juices made from concentrate altogether, or at the very least consumption in strict moderation. Juices made from whole fruits will contain less sugar; but again, swapping these for actual whole fruits presents several benefits (such as increased fibre  and lower calorie intake).

Dried fruits can often be high in sugar too, and again should be approached with moderation in mind.

The fiber question

The edible skins of whole fruits such as apples are typically rich in soluble fiber, which for the majority of people is a good thing. Fiber takes longer for the gut to digest, meaning that you’ll feel full for longer, and it can also to reduce cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

But there is such a thing as too much fiber, and particularly so for those with a gastrointestinal condition such as IBS. Loading the body with excessive amounts can induce flatulence and discomfort, and increased bowel frequency.

Ideally, adults should aim for around 30 grams of fiber per day. To provide some perspective, one apple contains about 4-5 grams, so it is technically possible to get ‘too much’ fiber from fruit.

Those who do have a digestive condition should ask their specialist for advice on eating fruit with a high fibre content.

The calorie question

The difference between whole fruits and altered fruit products comes into play again when it comes to calorie content.

Whole fruits tend to have quite a low calorie content: a banana or a medium apple will pack about 90 calories, compared to a 500ml bottle of orange juice which might contain in excess of 200 calories.

The GDA is 2,000 kcal and 2,500 kcal for women and men respectively, and most of this will be accounted for in our main meals.

So once again, while it is technically possible to overdo it by eating too much whole fruit, you’re much more likely to exceed your recommended daily calorie intake by consuming fruit in concentrated or condensed form.

How much fruit should I be eating?

In the UK, the National Health Service run a campaign called 5-A-Day.

The premise of the scheme is that five servings of fruit and vegetables (combined, not each) is the healthy optimum for most. They define a serving as being around 80 grams.

Of course fruits and vegetables are not all the same. Some contain vitamins and nutrients that others don’t, so variety is important.

A good rule to keep in mind is to stick as much as possible to eating whole fruit. If you do then over consumption, while not technically impossible, is much less likely.

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