No matter how strong your sweet tooth, you probably know that consuming tons of sugar is not the best move, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. After all, sugar hits our bloodstream fast, causing a ‘sugar spike’—which forces our bodies to release a hormone (insulin) to get that sugar out of the blood and distribute it throughout the body so it can be used as energy. Too much of this over time can put us at risk for weight gain and diabetes.
But if your goal is to lose weight, does that mean you should slash all sources of sugar—like fruit? (Gasp!).
The short answer: Nope.
“There is no reason why anyone—average exercisers, bodybuilders, or anyone else—should cut fruit from their diets,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., and best-selling author of Eating in Color.
Americans are consuming an average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day (amounting to 350 additional calories), when women should consume no more than six, and men no more than nine, says Largeman-Roth.
So if you want to lose weight, start by cutting your intake of foods and beverages with added sugars, not fruit. We’re talking about that flavor pump in your coffee, premade salad dressings, sweetened teas, and packaged snacks—many of which are loaded with the stuff.
Not All Sugar Is Created Equal
It’s important to distinguish between added sugars and natural sugars, says Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., professor of nutrition at Boston University and author of Nutrition and You!
Meanwhile, many foods and drinks that contain added sugars are pretty devoid of other nutrition. Added sugars are metabolized quickly, leaving you with a quick energy spike but feeling unsatiated, while the fiber from fruit slows down your body’s uptake of the sugar, helping you to stay fuller for longer.
Additionally, your body is taking in much-needed nutrients as it breaks down that fruit. “So, eating an orange is much better for you than consuming a sugary orange drink, like soda,” says Blake. Opting for a piece of fruit instead of a sugary treat is a great, low-calorie way to satisfy your sweet tooth and your appetite.
Does that mean you can eat all the fruit you want, anytime? Not exactly. “Anything can be overdone,” says Largeman-Roth. “If you’re subsisting on fruit and not getting enough high-quality proteins, vegetables, and whole grains, your diet will be unbalanced.” But even then, you’d still be hard-pressed to consume upwards of 22 teaspoons of sugar in a day—you’d probably just fill up on fiber first!
FYI: The USDA recommends between one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit daily for adults.
How To Slash The Sweet Stuff
To wean yourself off added sugar, Blake recommends first looking at what you’re drinking. You’re probably thinking of sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks, right? One of the biggest sneaky sources of added sugar might be part of your morning ritual: coffee and tea. “They carry a misnomer of being benign and even healthy sometimes, but fancy coffee drinks and blended or bottled tea can contain just as much sugar as a soda,” she says. Even smoothies can sneak up on you, because a lot of store-bought smoothies are flavored with fruit juices and other added sugars. (Hate to break it to you, but kale smoothies aren’t that sweet naturally!). Cutting out these liquid sugar sources can seriously slash your total intake.
If you’re already straying from the added sugars hiding in drinks and processed foods, but are still concerned about your intake, there are a few fruits that are naturally lower in sugar, says Largeman-Roth.
Grapefruit, oranges, pears, strawberries, and apples all make for a satisfying sweet snack that’s low in natural sugars, too. (A cup of strawberries contains about seven grams of sugar, while a medium banana contains about 15 grams of sugar.)