Everyone knows that too much sugar cannot be good to your health. Even Paleo-friendly sweeteners, like honey or maple syrup, should be used only in moderation. But fruit is a tricky subject. Are bananas, apples, and oranges a good Paleo snack, or simply an overload of a fructose? What is fructose?
Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruit. Sounds innocent, right? The problem is that fructose is notorious for causing weight gain. How does it do that? Fructose doesn’t go into the blood stream immediately like other sugars. It won’t give you a glycemic rush (that would be glucose). Instead fructose goes insidiously to the liver for processing (like a toxin), creating lipid (fat) deposits in the liver and other body tissues, and you get fat. Pure fructose is about 70% sweeter than sugar. Fructose can be granulated like table sugar orr it can be in liquid syrup form such as agave nectar, coconut syrup, honey and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
As an overall line, fruit is absolutely healthy but it’s worth knowing what your low fructose fruits are and becoming mindful for what fruit does for you and deciding how you want to include it into your diet. The FDA recommends adults eat two cups of fruit or fruit juice or a half-cup of dried fruit per day. How much fruit you eat may differ if you are following a specific low-carb diet plan or if you are limiting carbohydrates in your diet due to diabetes.
Most fruits have a low glycemic index (GI) due to the amount of fiber they contain and because their sugar is mostly fructose. However, dried fruit (such as raisins, dates, and sweetened cranberries), melons, and pineapples have a medium GI value.
Fruits contain many nutrients, and if you want to satisfy a sugar craving, fruit is the best choice. The good news is that the fruits lowest in sugar have some of the highest nutritional values, including antioxidants and other phytonutrients. On the other hand, some people digest and process sugar better than others. If you are someone who responds well to a low-carb diet, it pays to be careful.
Quick View of the Sugars in Fruits
For a quick way to think about which fruits are lowest in sugar, use these rules of thumb. Fruits are listed here from lowest to highest sugar content:
- Berries: These generally are the fruits lowest in sugar, and also among the highest in antioxidants and other nutrients. Lemon and lime are also in the lowest category.
- Summer Fruits: Melons, peaches, nectarines, and apricots are next in sugar-order.
- Winter Fruits: Apples, pears, and sweet citrus fruit such as oranges are moderate in sugars. Lemons and limes are low in sugar.
- Tropical Fruits: Pineapple, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, and fresh figs are high in sugar (guava and papaya are lower than the others).
- Dried Fruit: Dates, raisins, apricots, prunes, figs, and most other dried fruits are extremely high in sugar. Dried cranberries and blueberries would be lower, except that a lot of sugar is usually added to combat the tartness.
Here is a deeper dive into the fruits ranked from lowest to highest in sugar.
Fruits Low in Sugar (Low-Carb Fruits)
- Lime (1.1 grams of sugar per fruit) and lemon (1.5 grams of sugar per fruit) are rarely eaten as-is; they are mostly converted to juice and then sweetened. But you can add a slice to your water or squeeze them on food to add their nutrients and tartness.
- Rhubarb: 1.3 grams of sugar per cup. You are unlikely to find unsweetened rhubarb, so check the label before you assume what you are eating is low in sugar. But if you prepare it yourself, you can adjust the amount of added sugar or artificial sweetener.
- Apricots: 3.2 grams of sugar per small apricot. They are available fresh in spring and early summer. You can enjoy them whole, skin and all. Be sure to watch your portions of dried apricots, however, as (of course) they shrink when dried.
- Cranberries: 4 grams of sugar per cup. While very low in sugar naturally, they are usually sweetened when used or dried, so be wary. If you use them in recipes yourself, you can adjust the amount of sugar added.
- Guavas: 4.9 grams of sugar per fruit. You can slice and eat guavas, including the rind. Some people enjoy dipping them in salty sauces. They are the low-sugar exception to the tropical fruits.
- Raspberries: 5 grams of sugar per cup. Nature's gift for those who want a low-sugar fruit, you can enjoy raspberries in every way, eaten by themselves or as a topping or ingredient. You can get them fresh in summer or find them frozen year-round.
- Kiwifruit: 6 grams of sugar per kiwi. They have a mild flavor but add lovely color to a fruit salad. Also, you can eat the skin.
Fruits Containing Low to Medium Levels of Sugar
- Blackberries and strawberries: 7 grams of sugar per cup. With a little more sugar than raspberries, these are excellent choices for a snack, in a fruit salad, or as an ingredient in a smoothie, sauce, or dessert.
- Figs: 8 grams of sugar per medium fig. Note that this figure is for fresh figs. It may be harder to estimate for dried figs of different varieties, which can have 5 to 12 grams of sugar per fig.
- Grapefruit: 8 grams of sugar per grapefruit half. You can enjoy fresh grapefruit in a fruit salad or by itself, adjusting the amount of sugar or sweetener you want to add.
- Cantaloupes: 8 grams of sugar per large wedge. These are a great fruit to enjoy by themselves or in a fruit salad. They are the lowest in sugar of the melons.
- Tangerines: 9 grams of sugar per medium tangerine. They have less sugar than oranges and are easy to section for fruit salads. They are also easy to pack along for lunches and snacks, with built-in portion control.
- Nectarines: 11.3 grams of sugar in one small nectarine. These are delicious fruits to enjoy when ripe.
- Papaya: 12 grams of sugar in one small papaya. They are lower in sugar than the other tropical fruits.
- Oranges: 12 grams of sugar in a medium orange. These are great to pack along for lunches and snacks.
- Honeydew: 13 grams of sugar per wedge or 14 grams per cup of honeydew balls. They make a nice addition to a fruit salad or to eat by themselves.
- Cherries: 13 grams of sugar per cup. Ripe fresh cherries are a delight in the summer, but watch your portions if you are limiting sugar.
- Peaches: 13 grams of sugar per medium peach. You can enjoy them by themselves or in a variety of ways in desserts, smoothies, and sauces.
- Blueberries: 15 grams of sugar per cup. They are higher in sugar than other berries but packed with nutrients.
- Grapes: 15 grams of sugar per cup. While they are a nice snack, you'll need to limit portions if you are watching your sugar intake.
Fruits Containing High to Very High Levels of Sugar
- Pineapple: 16 grams of sugar per slice. It's delightful, but as a tropical fruit, it is higher in sugar.
- Pears: 17 grams of sugar per medium pear. This winter fruit is high in sugar.
- Bananas: 17 grams of sugar per large banana. They add a lot of sweetness to any dish.
- Watermelon: 18 grams of sugar per wedge. While this melon is refreshing, it has more sugar than the others.
- Apples: 19 grams of sugar in a small apple. They are easy to take along for meals and snacks, but higher in sugar than tangerines or oranges.
- Pomegranates: 39 grams of sugar per pomegranate. The whole fruit has a lot of sugar, but if you limit the portion to 1 ounce, there are only 5 grams effective (net) carbs.
- Mangos: 46 grams of sugar per fruit. These tantalizing tropical fruits have a lot of sugar.
- Prunes (66 grams of sugar per cup), raisins (86 grams of sugar per cup) and dates (93 grams of sugar per cup) are dried fruits that are very high in sugar.
5 Negative Health Effects of Fructose
Ø Body Fat
When the body receives glucose, it is quickly processed and sent out to the cells for energy usage. When fructose is eaten, however, a large percentage of it gets converted directly to fat and stored in the cells because glucose is the preferential carb fuel of the body. This can be a direct cause of weight gain.
Ø Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
The fructose-to-fat conversion can also tend towards insulin resistance, where the body becomes less responsive to insulin’s attempts to take glucose into the cells, and can even contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
This is closely associated with fructose leading to weight gain since being overweight can independently disrupt ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that regulate appetite.
Ø Cardiovascular Disease
Fructose has been targeted as a potential cause for heart problems since it increases triglycerides and other risk factors. An excess of fructose can also increase the size of LDL particles in the blood, which, when oxidized, can lead to the narrowing of arteries.
Ø Liver Toxicity
Similar to excessive alcohol intake, too much fructose can induce liver damage by altering metabolism and hormone signaling. When too much fruit is eaten, it can be converted to fatty deposits in the liver, reducing the liver’s ability to function and leading to digestive and detox-related problems.
Ø Sugar Addiction
All forms of sugar can come with a hefty side of cravings, but fructose can be especially addictive. This is because fructose affects hormone levels in the brain that are associated with appetite, and can lead to decreased feelings of satiety after meals. This is particularly important, as it is estimated that as much as 10 percent of our daily calories come from fructose sources alone.
Too much sugar, even from fruit, can spike blood sugar and lead to destructive impacts on teeth, gum disease, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, and more.
You can make the best choices for fruit based on the diet you are following. If you have diabetes, you may want to consult your doctor or a registered dietitian to help you design an eating plan that incorporates fruit appropriately. When you are limiting sugar, fruit is a better choice for a sweet craving than reaching for a sugary snack, as long as you keep portions in mind.