Can You Eat Fruit On A Sugar-Free Diet?

It’s berry season. Strawberries, cherries, raspberries: they’re everywhere.

If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, however, the want for all of these berries – and the abundance of other glorious seasonal fruit out there right now – leads to a fair bit of confusion.

Unfortunately, most fruit is packed full of sugar, and although it’s naturally occurring fructose, this is still sugar. So begs the question: Can I eat fruit on a sugar-free diet, and if so, what kinds of fruit?

There a no scientific guidelines speculating what an acceptable amount of sugar per item of food is, because the science on sugar (and its harm on the human body) is still in its early stages.

Sugar-free gurus like Sarah Wilson advocate the “5 per cent” rule around fruit consumption (i.e. no more than 5g of sugar per 100g of fruit), which is a good measure to go by if you’re trying to cut or lower all sugars – including fructose – from your diet.

If you’re a berry fan, you’re in luck. Despite our connotations with berries as being a dessert food, some of them come surprisingly under that five per cent threshold.

Cherries and blueberries, on the other hand, contain twice as much fructose (8g and 10g), which is roughly one tablespoon.

If you’re trying to avoid sugar over the holidays when it’s incredibly easy to snack when bored, it’s not actually these festive fruits you need to worry about.

It’s everyday fruit. 

Apples and bananas, unfortunately, are big culprits with very high sugar contents. A single apple contains around 18 or 19 grams of sugar, while a banana has around 14g.

You could eat a whopping two or three cups of strawberries for that same volume of sugar. On the contrary, consuming just two apples’ worth of sugar is the equivalent of scoffing 10 whole Oreos.

While it’s not exactly “apples for apples” here (fruit contains nutritional value such as fibre and vitamin C, cookies like Oreos contain nothing good whatsoever), it pays to keep this in mind when choosing fruit.

Pears, oranges, plums, nectarines, and peaches can be considered “middle ground” fruit in terms of fructose content – they all contain around 10 per cent sugar and should only be consumed occasionally if you’re on a low-sugar regime.

Other fruit that is welcomed on a low- or no-sugar diet, however, are avocados (less than 1g of sugar for an entire one), and lemons (about 2.5g of sugar per fruit). If you’re feeling tropical (or heading to the tropics for the holidays), papaya, cantaloupe, and watermelon are all mostly water, and contain just five to 10 per cent sugar.

Don’t forget that some vegetables are high in fructose as well. The majority of veggies are very low in fructose (not more than three per cent), and greens have even less, but high-fructose items such as orange kumara contain around 18g of sugar per 100g. They’re not called “sweet potatoes” outside of New Zealand for nothing.

Absolute no-nos, conversely, are anything pretending to be fruit. Fruit juice is notoriously unhealthy and banned from sugar-free diets, as it contains just as much sugar as soft drinks (that is, more than 10 teaspoons per one-cup serving).

Dried fruit – e.g. dried cranberries, apricots, or raisins – are also mostly sugar.

Raisins, for example, contain 60 to 80 per cent of it. The small amount of vitamins and antioxidants contains in dried fruits such as this by no way counterbalance the sugar content.

The science behind sugar’s dangers is currently in its infancy, though the World Health Organisation’s call this year for all adults to reduce their sugar intake is a sign of what’s to come as research progresses.

Fruit certainly isn’t the baddest guy in the sugar game, but if you are going to limit it, ensure you put some thought into which fruits to put down.

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