The Truth About the Sugar in Fruit

By Trisha Calvo

How nature’s candy affects your health and your weight

Chemically, the sugars in fruit and the sugars in a candy bar are the same, but the effects on your health couldn’t be more different. In fact, “most of us should be getting more whole fruit, not less,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., who heads Consumer Reports’ food lab. Adults should be eating at least 1½ cups of fruit each day, but according to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of Americans don’t consume that much.

When experts say you should limit your sugar intake, they’re talking about added sugars: those sprinkled into baked goods, candy, cereal, fruit drinks, tomato sauce, soda, and the like.

“The natural sugars in fruit are processed a bit differently by your body, because the fiber in the fruit minimizes the sugars’ impact on blood sugar levels,” says Nancy Z. Farrell, R.D.N., an adjunct professor of nutrition at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Va. “In addition, you also get vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients.”

Fruits' Many Health Perks

Studies have shown that eating fruit helps protect against some cancers, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions.

Fruit can even help with weight control. In a 2015 study published in PLOS Medicine in 2015, Harvard researchers found that every daily serving of fruit was linked to an average half-pound weight loss over a four-year period.

A 2016 study by the same researchers suggested that the antioxidant flavonoids in fruit may have an effect on metabolism. People with a diet rich in flavonoids were more likely to maintain their weight as they got older compared with people who did not eat high-flavonoid foods. The fruits that seemed to deliver the biggest benefit were apples, berries, and pears.

The sugars in fruit juices are different. Juice contains vitamins and minerals, but most are lacking in fiber. So their sugars get into your system much faster than those in whole fruit. And juice is a more concentrated source of sugars and calories. For example, a cup of apple slices has about 50 calories and 11 grams of sugars, and a cup of apple juice has about twice those amounts. So opt for whole fruit, says Siegel, and aim for 1½ to 2 cups per day.

Trisha Calvo

I've covered health and nutrition my entire career, so I know how to separate science from hype. Whether it's about food labels, sunscreen, or food safety, my goal is to deliver information that makes following a healthy lifestyle easier. Healthy cooking is a favorite hobby, and friends think I'm crazy, but I can happily spend hours grocery shopping. Follow me on Twitter. (@TrishaCalvo)

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