Here at Second Nature, we're often asked why we recommend limiting fruit intake to 1-2 servings a day. In this article, we'll explain the reasoning behind this recommendation and provide all the information you need to make an informed decision about your fruit intake.
Some of the questions we often get asked about fruit include:
- What does a serving look like?
- Is it ok to have 5 servings of fruits and no vegetables?
- Does it matter if I have 5 of the same thing?
- Are all fruits and vegetables the same?
Experts in the UK recommend eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day for optimal fibre and nutrient intake. This recommendation is broken down into 5x 80g servings of fruit and vegetables a day, which is where the slogan '5-a-day' comes from. However, even though they're both very important for our health, fruit and vegetables aren't nutritionally equal.
While fruit is full of fibre, water, and important nutrients, it also contains a type of sugar called fructose. When we have smaller amounts of fructose, our body can process this and turn it into energy that gets used by our muscles and brain. But if we're having large amounts of fructose, our body needs to convert this into fat in the liver, which over time can lead to insulin resistance.
What counts as one serving of fruit?
In the UK, one serving of fresh fruit is equal to 80g. Below are a few examples of one serving size of fresh fruit:
Small sized fresh fruit:
- 2 small plums
- 2 small satsumas or mandarins
- 2 kiwi fruit
- 3 apricots
- 6 lychees
- 7 medium strawberries
- 14 cherries
- A small serving bowl or handful of blueberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, or fruit salad
Medium sized fresh fruit:
- 1 piece of fruit e.g apple, banana, pear, orange, peach, or nectarine
Large sized fresh fruit:
- Half a grapefruit
- 1 x 5cm slice of papaya
- 1 x 5cm slice of melon
- 1 x 5cm slice of pineapple
- 2 x 5cm slices of mango
While dried fruit contains the same fibre and nutrients as whole fruit, it's still a more concentrated source of sugar compared to fresh fruit. This is because the water in dried fruit gets removed during the drying process.
For this reason, we recommend avoiding dried fruit and choosing fresh fruit instead. However, if you are having dried fruit, limit it to no more than one tablespoon (approximately 30g).
Dried fruit can also damage our teeth, so if you have dried fruit, have it at mealtimes, rather than as a snack. You should also try to flush your mouth out with a glass of water or preferably brush your teeth afterwards.
Tinned or canned fruit:
A serving of tinned fruit is roughly the same as fresh fruit:
- 2 pear or peach halves
- 6 apricot halves
- 8 segments of grapefruit
If you do use tinned fruit, opt for fruit in juice rather than syrup as this will contain less sugar. Also drain the fruit well (rinse if possible) before eating and discard the fruit juice.
Do some fruits have more sugar than others?
The short answer is yes. Different fruits contain different amounts of sugar, water, nutrients, and fibre. You can often taste which fruits have the most sugar (e.g. bananas, melon. and tropical fruits) and which have the least (e.g. tart berries).
Sugar content of fruit per 100g
- Raspberries - 4.6g
- Strawberries - 6.1g
- Peach - 6.8g
- Watermelon - 7.1g
- Orange - 8.2g
- Plum - 8.3g
- Blueberries - 9.1g
- Pears - 9.2g
- Apple - 10g
- Kiwi - 10.6g
- Cherry - 11.5g
- Mango - 14.1g
- Grapes - 16.1g
- Banana - 20.3g
Why should I eat a rainbow?
It’s important to remember that all fruits are different, and while some may have more sugar than others, they may also be higher in certain vitamins or phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are plant nutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. For example, cherries and berries contain anthocyanins and other antioxidants. Pineapple contains bromelain, grapefruit contains quercetin, apples are higher in folate, and bananas are higher in potassium.
Some of the best fruit sources of vitamin C (by order) include guava, kiwi fruit, strawberry, orange, and papaya.
Choosing a variety of different fruits means we'll be getting a wide range of valuable phytonutrients, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and fibre in our diet.
Q. I struggle with only having 2 pieces of fruit a day. Can you give me some advice on this?
It can help to spread your fruit portions throughout the day, accompanied by a source of protein. For example, rather than having a whole apple at breakfast, you could divide it into 4 quarters and spread this throughout the day. This might mean having ¼ grated over your morning muesli with a few cherries, ¼ with some cheese slices after lunch, ¼ with a small spoon of nut butter as a mid afternoon snack, and ¼ with a few berries and a little yoghurt and cinnamon for dessert after dinner.
Q. Is fruit juice ok to have?
We call fruit juice an ‘occasional’ food choice. This is because fruit juice is a more concentrated form of sugar and doesn’t provide the same satiety as a whole piece of fresh fruit. If you're having fruit juice (even freshly squeezed), you’ll miss out on important nutrients like fibre, which slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. If you do choose to have some juice, aim to have no more than 100ml, preferably with a meal.
Q. Is it ok to have more than 2 servings of fruit?
Yes, our guideline is just that - a guideline. If on occasion you go over this, that's absolutely fine. Just aim to have a maximum of two servings as part of your ‘everyday’ way of eating.
Q. What can I do if I'm craving something sweet?
If you find that you've already had your two servings of fruit and are still craving something sweet, here are a few alternative suggestions you could try:
- Have some sweet vegetables. Red peppers, carrots, and snap peas all have a natural sweetness, and are perfect for a snack.
- Consider using cinnamon, vanilla, cacao nibs, or coconut flakes with yoghurt and nuts for a delicious, fruitless snack
- Have a cup of peppermint or fruit tea, both of which are naturally sweet
Written by Kirstie Lawton, PhD, Registered Nutritionist and Health Coach