Fruit: Friend or Foe?

Here is how this all got started:
Last month I received an email from a friend asking about whether it was okay to eat a lot of fruit every day. She had seen an article in the NYTimes, “How to Stop Eating Sugar,” in which she read that fresh fruit is a good way to satisfy a sweet tooth without resorting to processed items with their excessive (absurd even, I would say) amounts of added sugar. Without specifying exactly how much was too much, the author included a warning about not overdoing the fruit, which is what prompted my friend’s note.

Now my friend (let’s call her Evelyn) was concerned about the possibility that her diet exceeded a reasonable daily amount of sugar. She had to figure out whether the author’s warning applied to her. She told me that the fruit strategy recommended in the NY Times article was one she herself had used for years to appease her own self-described “voracious” sweet tooth, curb her appetite between meals, and take the place of foods she considered less healthy but still tempting.

How much fruit was Evelyn actually eating? She said it was two to six servings of fruit every day, usually some mix of apples, pears, clementines, and berries (all kinds), with occasional peaches, apricots, and nectarines in season. Was this considered overdoing it? Was she in danger of overdosing on “natural” sugars? Was this what was preventing her from losing “those last 5 or 10 pounds?,” as she put it?++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Here is my reply:

Dear Evelyn:

It was so good to hear from you! I hope you are well and that school is more or less tolerable. I see your beautiful self on Facebook with some degree of regularity, and I have to believe that you are exactly where you are meant to be. Notwithstanding the fact that virtually ALL American women think they need to lose 5-10 pounds, I hear you.

If you’re concerned about how much fruit you’re eating, you could 1) investigate which fruits have comparatively less sugar and shift toward them to whatever degree you feel is appropriate, 2) substitute more vegetables for some of your fruit, 3) try increasing the proportion of greens + nourishing fats (olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, etc.) at meals (and even snacks) so your body doesn’t feel like it’s running out of nutrients midway thru the morning or afternoon.

On the other hand, you could keep doing exactly what you do now. Firstly, you are beautiful; and, secondly, does anyone really think that fruit is what’s driving the diabetes/obesity epidemic in this country?

Much love
Here is her reply back to me (more or less):

Hi Roxanne,

Thank you for your reply! Your advice sounds like something I should have known on my own, but it is so great to have an expert opinion! That sounds entirely doable. I will make an effort to shift to more vegetables and greens, in particular. And I’m not under the impression that I’m way overweight or anything; I know that I’m in a healthy range. That said, I can also see that I’m carrying a bit of extra in the middle, and since I don’t get much exercise (combination of inertia, laziness, and busy-ness), while I make an effort to improve that, I also want to make sure my diet is as well-rounded as possible!

And, finally, a few last comments from me to you:

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be in touch with my friend again, and I’m doubly glad that she agreed to allow me to share our conversation. Thank you, E! Now I have just a few final observations:

  1. It’s not just about what you weigh (said by the woman in me).
  2. It’s also about your energy levels, your ability to focus and concentrate, and your ability to find your calm center (said by the yogi in me).
  3. It’s about whether your blood pressure, cholesterol profile, and blood sugars are normal, and how active you tend to be on a weekly basis (said by the doctor in me).
  4. In other words, it’s about a balance. If everything is just as you (and your doctor) like it, you’re probably doing just fine and it’s unlikely that you’re eating too much fruit (said by the mom in me).
  5. Curbing your appetite between meals is really about nourishing yourself. If you’re hungry between meals, you can eat bigger meals, or you can eat nourishing snacks (like the fruit, or nuts, veggies, hummus, olives, or anything else you like). Think of your appetite not as a wild animal to be tamed, but as a beloved aspect of your physiology that requires tender loving care and nourishing food (said by the friend in me).
  6. Even though I once knew someone who developed a temporary intestinal blockage from eating two entire heads of broccoli at one sitting (meaning, of course, that it is possible to overdo it with just about anything), it is generally speaking more difficult to eat too much fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or beans than, say, cake or doughnuts (part 1 of 2).
  7. Whenever food sugar is held within a fiber matrix, that matrix needs to be broken down in order to access the sugar inside. And even though fruit contains a lot more sugar than, say, lentils or fennel, the fiber still takes up so much space that you’re much less likely to overdo it than if you ate a bag of candy. So as long as your choices are usually within reason (like Evelyn’s), and you don’t already have diabetes or some other major problem with sugar and stripped carbs, you probably can’t get that much sugar into your stomach and blood stream fast enough to cause a major problem (said by the blogger in me, part 2 of 2).
  8. We all tend to be hard on ourselves for not knowing everything about everything, but please don’t feel like you should have all the answers here. Remember that I think about food and nutrition constantly, and you, dear reader, probably have a great many other important priorities. Also, it may reassure you to know that my obsession with thinking about food disadvantages quite a few other important ones, like doing my laundry. Of course, I keep trying…
  9. Lastly, for now, I want to remind you to trust your gut. There’s a sneaky little reason that we look forward to going out for dinner after we eat a big bag of Good ‘n’ Plenty or Sour Patch Kids at the movies. It’s because candy is fun, and fun is fine, but it’s not food. So your brain stays hungry. And that is why it’s very important to eat real food when you’re hungry. And fruit is food.

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