Can You Eat Fruit on a Low-Carb Diet? It Depends

Woman Eating Fruit From a BowlAsk any random person on the street whether fruit is healthy… I’ll bet that 9 out of a 10 will say that it is.

Pretty much everyone “knows” that fruit is a health food… it’s right up there with vegetables, right?

However, in certain circles, many people think that fruit is unhealthy.

There are even people who go to extremes and say that fruit is downright poisonous.

These people are usually low-carbers, which do not eat fruit for a very specific reason.

The topic of fruit and low-carb diets seems to come up all the time, so I thought I’d do the subject proper justice and write an article about it.

Fruits and Low-Carb – The Dilemma

The primary goal of low-carb diets is carb restriction (duh).

This involves limiting the foods that are highest in carbohydrates, including the usual suspects like candy, sugary soft drinks, root vegetables like potatoes, as well as grain products like pasta and bread.

But fruit, despite the health halo, also tend to be fairly rich in carbohydrates, primarily the simple sugars glucose and fructose.

Here is the net carb (total carbs – fiber) count for a few fruits:

Carb Count of Fruits

Fruits are much higher in carbohydrates than low-carb veggies, but low in carbs compared to foods like bread or pasta.

It’s Best to Spend Your Carb Budget Wisely

Vegetable Oils

It’s important to keep in mind that not all low-carb diets are the same. There is no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a low-carb diet.

Whether any one person can or should include fruit in their diet depends on a lot of things.

This includes current goals, activity levels, current metabolic health, as well as personal preference.

A person who eats 100-150 grams of carbs per day can easily fit in several pieces of fruit per day without going over their limit.

However, someone who is on a very low-carb ketogenic diet with under 50 grams per day doesn’t really have much room.

Instead of spending all the carb budget on 1 or 2 pieces of fruit, it would be better spent eating plenty of low-carb vegetables… which are much more nutritious, calorie for calorie.

What About The Fructose?

Fruits

There has been a lot of talk about the harmful effects of sugar… mainly because it contains so much fructose.

There is now evidence that when consumed in excess, fructose can lead to all sorts of problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome (1).

However, it is very important to realize that fructose is only harmful in a certain context. For people who are inactive and eat a high-carb Western diet, consuming a lot of fructose can cause harm.

But people who are healthy, lean and active can afford to eat some fructose. Instead of being turned into fat, it will go towards replenishing glycogen stores in the liver.

If you’re already eating a healthy, real food based diet with plenty of protein and fat, then small amounts of fructose (from fruit) won’t cause harm.

Fruits also happen to contain fiber, lots of water and significant chewing resistance. It is almost impossible to overeat fructose, simply by eating fruit.

The harmful effects of fructose apply to fructose from added sugars, not from real foods like fruits. Period.

However, fruit juice is a different story. There’s no fiber in it, no chewing resistance and it contains pretty much the same amount of sugar as Coca Cola. Fruit is okay, fruit juice is not.

Fruit is Generally Healthy

Blueberries

The best way to get into nutritional ketosis and experience the full metabolic benefits of low-carb diets is to reduce carbs, usually below 50 grams per day. This includes fruit.

There are many reasons people adopt such a diet… some do it for health reasons such as obesity, diabetes or epilepsy. Others simply feel best eating that way.

There is no reason to discourage these people from avoiding fruit. There is no nutrient in there that you can’t get from vegetables.

But even though some low-carbers may do best limiting fruit, the same does NOT apply to the other 90 something percent of the population.

For others, fruits are healthy, unprocessed foods with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Fruits are certainly MUCH healthier options than the processed crap that most people are putting in their bodies every day.

Take Home Message

People who are on a low-carb / ketogenic diet may want to avoid fruit, because it can prevent ketosis.

For everyone else, fruits are healthy foods and can definitely be parts of a healthy, real food based diet.

32 Comments

  1. Peggy Holloway says:

    Very well said. Thanks! I am one of those who is extremely insulin-resistant (major familial history of “Type II Diabetes” along with being a postmenopausal woman) and have found that, even though I am an avid cyclist, (or maybe because I am) I do best on a ketogenic plan.

    I eat all of my carbs in the form of non-starchy vegetables and I feel confident that I am getting all of the nutrients I need. I have pretty much eliminated nuts and berries from my diet. I used to eat them in moderation, but find I feel better without them and have finally reduced my last residual “love handles” since giving them up.

    That said, I don’t consider fruit “poison” and will have an occasional berry or two and if I have “dessert,” on the rare occasion, it will be berries with unsweetened cream or whipped cream. I do believe there is a danger in touting “eat your fruits and veggies” without the sort of caveats you have written here.

    Unrestricted consumption of fruit, the idea that fruit juice is healthy, and not distinguishing between starchy and non-starchy vegetables are mistakes that people make when they are told that “eating fruits and veggies is heathy.”

    Wish your post would be part of the USDA guidelines!

  2. Great article as usual! I am not a low-carber myself, I eat with a Paleo template with some healthy starches thrown in for anaerobic training (AKA Nate Miyaki’s i-feast). I’ve always been fit and lean which has been great not gonna lie. =)

    Anyways, I was posting to say that I really appreciate how you keep an open mind. You don’t condemn carbs to Hades and keep your posts scientifically based. I agree whole-heartedly that low-carb would benefit much of the overweight western world and its cancerous eating habits.

    However, once you’re lean (or have always been), choosing to up the carbs is a very viable option. Your article on the gluten-free/sugar-free diet was phenomenal!! Definitely an ideal template for the already fit, healthy person.

    Not really anything else to say, except keep up the great work. =)

  3. Chinonye says:

    I have tried low carb and failed, I mean always going back on those carbs due to where I came from, that is Nigeria where carb is what is around us. Please, how can I sustain on this low carb diet?

    • Chinonye -

      It’s not easy to give up carbs, especially when it’s a cultural food. So the first answer is simply to persist. If you start eating carbs, stop, figure out your trigger foods/habits, and start back up. It make take many repetitions of that cycle to maintain a steady diet. It took me a while to get into good habits — be patient with the process.

      The other thing is you’ll need to make some firm decisions about how much of your culture you’re keeping. (This is New World (America, Canada, etc) issue, by the way.) You’re going to make someone upset if you decide to stick with this. That was a given in the US of A, a surprisingly “hang loose” type of society. I imagine the problem is double or triple in most traditional societies.

      In other words, there’s no “magic trick” other than deciding in advance what you’re eating and how to handle any fallout. You can do this, if you want. Good luck. :)

    • Mark Peco says:

      @ Chinonye

      I don’t know about your problem, but I’d like to give you an idea how I deal with my carb problem.

      I’m from the Philippines, and it is included in the list of countries that consume most rice. We literally are weaned with rice, and then rice diet all the way.

      Most meals offered here have the promo “Unli Rice Meals”. I can probably dig 5 cups of rice in one sitting (usually office lunch). Three square meals per day, with at least 3 cups of rice on average, equals 9 cups of rice per day.

      As of now, my diet consists of mostly eggs, fish, meat, and vegetables on the side (1 cup of rice at most. When I don’t have access to the kitchen). I had no problem with obesity since birth though. I look thin, even before I was on my high-carb life style (5’6″ @ 150 lbs).

      Anyways, just saying there are still alternatives, even if it looks that the odds are against you. XD

    • Michael Cohen says:

      Eat more fat!

  4. Let me add my thanks, too! This is a really well done article on fruit and fruit juices.

    I will eat more fruit when we up the physical work level, but I generally try to keep as a special dessert. (It’s a current process I’m still working on.) It’s very helpful to make fruit the treat, so when there’s a holiday, there’s something to have.

    With kids, it’s hard to “resist” on the fruit juice. My daughter has apple juice when my son has soda – which is as a treat, few and far between. It’s weird to be treating them as close to the same, but realistically, once they are processed, they have nearly the same affect on the body.

  5. It is all so easy to fall into the ‘trap’ that all fruit is so healthy and ok to eat. For many that could be so but for me I choose those that are lower in carbohydrates. I also tend to look out for supermarket bargains. If the carb level and price are both low it’s a win situation. As ever it’s important to know what we want from our foods, do the research (like your great blog Kris) and make informed choices.

    I’m off to eat my Sunday evening meal, Chicken with a selection of non starchy vegetables followed with some strawberries and double cream.

    All the best, Jan.

  6. Chinonye says:

    What about beans, can I eat them on low carb?

    • Most low carb plans don’t include beans or it’s very limited (mostly starch) but only you can tell us if your low(er) carb plan includes beans.

      If you’re going to succeed, you’ll need rely on some of your resources/research. I’m not sure if you can say that you “failed” at low carb if you don’t even know for sure what that means or what foods are high/low carb.

      All the effort *is* worth it, but it is effort, especially in the beginning. Find a known/popular low carb plan (Atkins, Zone, etc), learn it and stick to it.

  7. Thank you for this article. It is nice to see a reasoned argument as to why fruit is healthy, but may not be healthy for some.

    Hubby rarely eats fruit because he is trying to eat a mostly ketogenic diet for weight loss. Me, I eat small amounts of the lower carb fruits (berries and melon mostly) as I don’t need to loose weight, but eat a low-carb diet because I feel healthier that way. The kids I encourage to snack on fruit freely as long as they don’t have more than 2-3 pieces a day (I can’t afford for them to eat more than that as there are 4 of them!).

    We eat paleo for the most part with some additional dairy products for the kids, and find that fruit is a good way to satisfy the kids desire for something a little sweet.

  8. Thanks for the article. I usually eat fruit for breakfast, banana, grapes, apple, various berries, pineapple…. my question is this. Lately I’ve been using a Nutri bullet to juice my fruit. In your opinion, is it better to eat the fruit whole or does it matter?

    • It is much better to eat the fruit whole.

      • Just curious as to why you say this as a nutribullet does not extract juice and leave fiber, it simply pulverizes and liquefies the fruit/vegetables without removing anything. Since no fiber or nutrients are removed, why do you feel there is a difference?

        • The sugar being bound within the fibrous structure can help slow absorption somewhat. Plus the effort needed to chew and swallow the whole fruit is one factor that limits consumption.

          There are many studies comparing liquid vs solid calories showing that liquid calories don’t contribute to satiety nearly as well.

    • You miss out on the fiber if you only drink the juice.

  9. Good article, but I’ve got a couple comments.

    First, there’s no fructose in table sugar (sucrose). It’s true that a sucrose molecule can be broken down into a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule, but that requires breaking a chemical bond–not a trivial process. Saying that sugar is half fructose is just wrong. It’s like saying that water is two thirds hydrogen.

    Second, in addition to fiber, vitamins, and minerals, fruits contain phytochemicals that are antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, etc.

  10. Brian Heys says:

    This one is kind of scary for me, because I absolutely adore fruit, and I’ve started to think I may be in danger of overeating it at times. Banana, apple, pineapple, mango, melon, strawberries, and grapes – I can’t seem to get enough of them!

  11. Hello Kris,

    If I may add something: just like fats are not just fats due to the different families and their respective effect on health, carbs are also not only carbs / sugars. Take bananas: the green ones will have some starch, and a rather high amount of resistant starch (RS) which are not digested and make it to your blood glucose.

    It is actually healthy to eat a certain amount of RS because they feed the good bacteria in the colon. I am almost sure you know about this stuff and maybe you wrote about this topic.

    But low carbers (I have been one for half a year to shed excess body fat) are missing RS and it is a pity. One can also have cooked and cooled potatoes or rice for adding RS (beans are know to contain some but well, legumes are not exactly a favorite around here :) ).

  12. Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot.

  13. The problem with fruit is that we are told they’re a healthy alternative to junk, so then we eat them without thinking of its nutritional content. I know Atkins approves of berries at later stages of the diet, as berries have the least carbs. Lemon and tomato is always allowed. I’m going to have some lemon water right now! :)

  14. This is so cool, I am new to all this new carb stuff and I seem to crave more when I am on a low carb diet… by the way, I am overweight :(

  15. Lorraine J says:

    This is the first time I read anything like this. It has been helpful but I’m am still confused and unsure. I am in week 2 of the Atkins diet and I’m starting to get really sick of eating just eggs for breakfast. I was hoping I could eat a piece of fruit once in a while but I’m not sure. Does anyone one have any ideas of what else I could eat for breakfast besides eggs and atkins shakes?

    • I agree with you there, I just started this week, after a week of doing a cabbage soup diet. It’s a relief to be able to diet and still eat. I just have a lite cracker with cheese, there is also low carb bread available in the super where I live.

      In the weekend when I’m free then I do a fried egg on toast (low carb). Anchovies on toast is also possible. Maybe you can try frying some tomatoes, mushrooms and tuna or some other type of fish. I have done this diet already a few times in the past and it really works with me and I had even eaten fruit now and then and still lost weight.

    • There is nothing else really unless you want to improvise on the diet. I am still testing really good in ketosis just having a cup of applesauce a day. But that depends on your view of what you want your diet to be.

      I do think Atkins full force is a little unhealthy, but low carb does work. I do a modified version and have already lost 6 pound in just a week and a half. Plus, you don’t have all the negative symptoms like the dry mouth and bad breath as much.

      It’s working for me. Just don’t over do it. Besides, the fruit helps curb the craving for the bad stuff. That is always a plus when dieting! Hopes this helps.

      Just get some keto strips and you can monitor your progress and keep a food log if you wish. Good luck!

  16. I usually do not post comments, but I had to here. This is a very exceptional and unbiased article! Loved it.

    I recently started a ketogenic diet and was doing great with just a cup of applesauce for my serving of fruit for the day and tested great with the keto strips. Then had fruit that same day and tested the next morning low on ketosis.

    So, your article just confirmed what I needed to know to be able to shed these extra pounds! Thanks!

  17. Lobelia Price says:

    You basically just added more confusion to the mix.

    The bottom line is that fruit is healthy and should not be avoided or discouraged on anyone’s plan for weight loss or otherwise. Nope-not even for “Phase One” or just a couple of weeks. My best friend died of colon cancer while on a “ketogenic” diet. He was eating way too red meat and not getting enough fiber just from eating vegetables.

    Just for the record, Dr. Atkins himself was rather plump when he died in my humble opinion.

  18. Karen Wilson says:

    In response to the comment regarding Dr. Atkins being plump… if you do some research you will find that Dr. Atkins sustained a head injury from a fall. He was in the hospital and was given glucose in his veins. This resulted in him being very bloated and retaining lots of fluid. They are not telling the real story! He was not overweight!

    • No, Dr Atkins was not fat and his diet is not unhealthy. He does allow berries and some fruit later on IF you can eat it and still get results (weight loss or maintenance and good blood work) but not on induction. On induction you can eat all sorts of green vegetables and salads, enough to get all the vitamins you need.

      Later you can experiment and see what you can and can’t eat. Eat more of the scary fat. My triglycerides went from 1500 to 68 on Atkins. I lost 90 pounds and can ski on black diamond from easy blues. All in less than a year. I am 63 and feel great.

      I eat berries and melon and the occasional pineapple, apple or pear. I eat tomatoes and avocados and artichokes, and kale, and spinach, and asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower, rutabaga and turnips and all with BUTTER.

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