Monday, October 30, 2006

A Sticky Question about Fruit in the Diet

You've gotta love it when research findings contrary to the conventional wisdom don't do much to change the status quo or even challenge the assumptions we hold. Take for instance our belief that fruit is important in our diet and must be eaten each day to make sure we're eating a healthy-balanced diet.

True? Probably not.

The data from various studies have shown many times that long-term health is not dependent upon eating fruit, nor any specific quantity of fruit each day. Yet, that hasn't stopped the leading health organizations and government policy makers from repeatedly telling us to eat fruit, warning that diets that limit or restrict fruit are bad, and that we all need at least 2-3 servings a day or we're going to have health problems.

Now don't get me wrong - fruit is good, I like it, I eat it too; but it's just not essential for our long-term health; especially if we're eating a nutrient-rich diet and including non-starchy vegetables.

The latest study to explore the necessity of fruit in the diet was published in the October 24 issue of Neurology - Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change - to investigate the role fuits and vegetables in the diet had for protecting against cognitive decline as we age. Just as the Nurses' Health Study data showed previously, fruit consumption was not associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline, but vegetables, specifically non-starchy vegetables, were protective!

As reported by CBC News - the study "found that high consumption of fruit had no effect on thinking ability."The lead researcher, Dr. Martha Clare Morris, said "By far, the association with a slower rate of decline was found in the group that ate high amounts of green, leafy vegetables." Such foods included lettuce and tossed salad, spinach, kale and collards. The study also found that the slowdown in cognitive decline was greatest in the oldest people who ate at least two more vegetable servings a day.

Take home message here - eat your vegetables, specifically non-starchy vegetables.

So far as fruit - it's fine to include in your diet if you want to, I just don't think you must include fruit to be healthy; it's a nice, sweet addition that also packs in antioxidants; but there doesn't appear to be any big benefit long-term to eating fruit every day.

Interestingly, some countries with better health and longevity actually eat less fruit each day than we do in the United States. So next time you hear about how miserable our intake of fruit is in the US, remember too that Japan, France, Iceland, Switzerland and others eat less fruit than we already do and they live longer and in better health too. Keep in mind they each, also, eat a lot more non-starchy vegetables each day!


  1. Corelation <> Causation, right?!? If I recall correctly, it has also been shown a number of times that the people who eat the most vegetables, also tend to engage in other healthier lifestyle activities.

  2. I'm sure that veg can take the place of fruit and one can still be healthy. However, as grains are a recent addition to the Human Diet, it seems likely that fruit has played a major role in the Human Diet for millions of years. Our closest living relative, the Bonobo (we share 98%+ genes) eats A LOT of fruit. Fruit is good.... and more trees mean a better planet... Lets eat more fruit :)

  3. kwintet6:44 PM

    Fruit is not good for diabetics, the diabetic body treats fruit like pure sugar. Any fruit, except a grand total of about 3 berries, will raise my blood sugar by more than 36 points!


  4. Stuart8:12 PM

    I think you are over simplyfying the "experts message". Certainly for the UK the message is always "x portions of fruit AND veg" (capitals all mine for emphasis). This means you don't have to eat just fruit or only fruit but it is likely aimed at folks who can't stomach huge amounts of veg and/or fruit and so get a choice.

    Lastly I need to address kwintet's vastly over simplified "fruit is not good for diabetics" comment. This is probably more dangerous than correct - as husband to a diabetic of 36yrs I can categorically state that fruit does not cause my wife any health problems - BUT then she is insulin controlled and I suspect kwintet is diet and/or tablet controlled - a very different prospect.

  5. I eat a TON of veggies every day (and love them!), but fruit (specifically berries) are a once a week treat on Saturdays. Though if they are on sale I do tend to eat quite a lot that day. ;)

    I like putting berries into Carb Smart ice cream and drizzling sugar-free Hershey's syrup over it. Yum!

  6. kwintet8:15 AM

    No, although type 2 I am indeed insulin controlled, and fruit is one of the worst things I can eat(my insulin requirements skyrocket if I eat fruit) low starch veggies, but no fruit. Dangerous is certainly incorrect, fruit is sugar pure and simple. Check out Dr Bernstein's site and forum, you will find that there is no better controlled diabetics than on that site and no fruit is the norm although some can tolerate a little.


  7. Some fruit is okay in small doses, such as nutrient rich berries. Most fruits when fresh off the tree contain some small amounts of nutrients but the stuff you get in shops is at best a week old if not older - picked when not ripe & treated by various methods to stay looking like they had just fallen off a tree. It matters not a jot if you consume cane sugar or fruit sugar is sugar is sugar. The fibre in fruit can slow down the absorbsion but it doesn't change the fact that you still ingest sugar. Kwintet is correct in saying it raises your blood sugars & taking more insulin to stabalise your blood sugar is not the healthy way of managing diabetes it is just putting more stress on your body.
    Once more great marketing takes the place of proper health advice, while fruit may be a nice thing to eat occassionally you certainly don't need to eat some everyday to be healthy. Advertising certainly has a lot to answer for.

  8. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Apperently like minds think alike. Back in 96 or maybe in 95 I presented my peers with this very same question. I actually think sweets in most forms are poison to the body. Think about it. If carbs from starchy foods and veggies breakdown in our body as sugar then why on earth do we need sugar from fruit? Doesn't make any since and I think those with diabetes have been bamboozled because sweet addiction can come from the so called healthy sweets like, candy yams, oranges, bananas and the like. You want an insulin spike eat right from the start! Stay away from cereals and all the other crap in foods that are sweet. I could go on and on the look out for my book in the coming years. I will make a big announcement when it is done!