Paleo Plan

Fruit And The Paleo Diet

That's me in front of a bunch of delicious fruit.

I love me some fruit. I can’t imagine you don’t, too. I love it so much that because of the dearth of fresh, organic fruit lately, I’ve been thawing out bags of frozen berries and mangoes and eating little cups of it every day. It’s awesome that way because there’s a natural syrup that forms when the fruit thaws. I eat at least one banana a day. Screw all that talk about fructose; I love fructose. I’ve been eating a couple dates every day, and don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I’ll even sneak in a pear amidst all these fruitscapades. Why would anyone eat this much fruit, you ask? I feel better when I eat this much fruit, and I think that many of you would, too.

We’re not Atkins, like I’ve said before here. We’re Paleo. We’re supposed to eat what would have been available to us long, long ago. And no, fruit wouldn’t have been available to all of us around the globe every day of the year. Equatorial people were likely to have had access to it most often, while people everywhere else had it only seasonally. But in my opinion, fruit is incredibly good for you. Often just as nutritious or even moreso than vegetables. Let’s compare the amount of a small selection of nutrients in 1 cup of raw blueberries, 1 cup of raw cabbage, 1 cup of raw almonds, and 5 ounces of buffalo sirloin (just for the heck of it).

As you’ll see in the table below, raw cabbage is often negligibly higher than blueberries in most nutrients, but the key word here is negligibly. And I picked sort of a high nutrient vegetable. Cabbage is related to kale, the holy grail of vegetables. And these are not wild blueberries in the table, whose nutrient values would be higher than the domesticated blueberries I detailed below. You can see that nuts and meat are way higher in many of the nutrients, compared to either the cabbage or the blueberries. The blueberries, however, do contain relatively more carbohydrates and that’s what I’m trying to get at here.

Click to enlarge


(All data collected from the USDA nutrient database here.)

I need carbs. I feel better when I eat them. I rock climb 3 to 5 times per week, plus I walk for an hour or more almost every day. Plus a few particularly motivated friends recently got me into doing stupid pull-up workouts and finger strengthening exercises so I’m burning calories there a couple times a week, too. And I’m not trying to lose weight, so this girl needs lots (relatively) of carbs. All in all, I probably end up eating around 100 to 150 grams of carbs a day, but sometimes less than 100 and my energy is really good. I don’t really want to eat 549 calories plus the phytic acid in almonds to get my carbs. I’d gain weight (and so would you) at a rapid pace if I did that.

If you’re not trying to cut out all carbs – and why would you? – then eat some fruit. If you’re at all active, the carbs will help you, unless you’re not eating ANY carbs and LOTS of fat and are actually in ketosis. At which point, you will only excel at low to moderate intensity exercise. Or unless you have some severe sensitivity to fructose that your naturopath has told you about. Or unless you just don’t like the taste of fruit (weirdo), then eat your fruit without fear.

Now, having said that, there is a limit to how much fruit one might want to enjoy every day. You probably don’t want to garner all your calories from the stuff, as from the table you can see it’s lacking in protein and fat… But even if you’re trying to lose weight, have a piece or 3 a day. If you’re not trying to lose weight and you’re active, then have 3-5 servings a day. If you’re an endurance athlete, you may want to have a few bananas and some berries every day plus a bunch of sweet potatoes on the days you have hard workouts. In my opinion, if you work out at least 3 times a week, stay between 100 and 150 grams of carbs a day (possibly more if you’re an enduro athlete). A medium banana has about 27 grams of carbohydrates in it. An entire large sweet potato only has about 40 grams of carbs in it, so you do the math. If you’re not eating grains or sugar and you’re a very active person, you want to eat fruit.

Beyond that, though, it’s a tough world out there and fruit can make life seem a little easier. Eat it because it tastes good and because you’re lucky enough to live in a world where fruit magically grows on Whole Foods trees. I know you guys are confused about how much fruit to eat because I get about 3 emails a week from you asking, “What about fruit? Can I still eat fruit on the Paleo diet?” Yes. Go ahead. There are bigger fish to fry in this lifetime, like grains and soybean oil…

If you have comments or questions about this, I encourage you to take them over to the forums here. I’d love to know what your experiences have been with eating fruit and not eating fruit.

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17 Comments

  1. This is a great post! When I first started out on the Paleo diet I was terrified of fruit…totally unnecessary! I now eat about 3 servings a day and feel GREAT!

  2. Well, ‘screw’ all the talk about fructose isn’t a good idea. But there is a difference. In fruits, it is bound within the food, aborbed and utilized differently. The main worry that’s currently in vogue is HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). Which is comical in its name. It’s higher in fructose than regular corn syrup, but only slightly, I mean a few percentage points. Further, it’s only a few percentage points higher in fructose than regular table sugar, which is sucrose and fructose.

    The reduction in HFCS is a good idea, along with all non-bound sugars. They get absorbed the fasted and raise blood sugar the fastest. But the fructose one can buy to replace sugar, or that is added (unfortunately) to diabetic products in place of sugar, and is found very heavily in Agave Nectar which is (falsely) considered healthy is worrisome. Yes, in terms of blood sugar, it does raise it more slowly than regular sugar, and this has been alluring to the diabetic folks.

    Unfortunately, it also rots teeth significantly faster than regular sugar. It also makes blood platelets more sticky, as to clot the blood more easily. Highly undesireable in the diabetic community rampant with stroke and heart attack risk (both of which are triggered by blood clots). Then of course there is the issue of thrombosis. But I digress. Fructose also is DIRECT fuel for cancer cells, while sucrose is indirecty. Fructose helps them grow much faster.

    Not to worry again, fruit consumption, the way the sugars are structured in fruit, is NOTHING LIKE this. I’d read of a doctor studying the fructose issue who pointed that out and said nobody should use this info to deter eating fruit. In fact, there are so many anti-cancer nutrients in fruit, especially berries (especially blueberries, and the unfortunately rare aronia berry which is 2-3 times higher in anti-oxidants than blueberries, which we know are very high in them).

    Another issue is blood sugar control. There is the glycemic index, and more important, glycemic load, to consider. Even healthy people without diabetes (myself for example) do better to eat low glycemic. High glycemic eating is why I’ll sometimes fall asleep after some meals, but not others. The load means how much a typical serving of it will affect us. An interesting comparison is what you mention, dates, and another popular US food, spaghetti (noodles).

    Those only show as being ‘moderately’ glycemic on the glycemic index, while dates show as high glycemic. But on the glycemic load scale, it’s much different. A typical serving of dates is, what? One or two? For many, it’s only on occasion. Spaghetti type noodles are commonplace. We also eat far more in a serving. I mean, a half pound at a time in many cases. That much means a far higher glycemic load, that’s a lot of carbs for the body to deal with.

    Only so much can circulate in the blood at a time. Slowly digested (low glycemic) carbs don’t raise that blood sugar level fast. They should be the staples of our diet. This is where blueberries beat raspberries, (they also have a lot more anti-oxidants than raspberries). They don’t raise blood sugar fast. So larger servings of them are healthful. Well, in general. There is another consideration, and yes, the USDA has been helpful here as well with pesticides.

    Yes, pesticides. Paleo folks should, if they don’t already know, go free-range, grass-fed, organic meat as much as possible. Corn-fed, giant agra-farm beef is higher in pesticides (concentrated in their muscles) than most produce. But when listing foods highest in pesticide, blueberries and potatoes topped the list. They should be organic (and potatoes should be eaten raw/cold (non-sprouted, non-green, green/sprouts on potatoes means they’re toxic).

    Or you can eat them chilled (ie. potato salad). Chilling, or cold, they have resistant starches that cause them to be absorbed more slowly, and caues other sugars eaten with them to be absorbed more slowly. Heated, they break down into sugar, and raise blood sugar as fast as pure table sugar. But blueberries, despite being low-glycemic & healthful, unless organic, are high in pesticide. Yes, even ‘wild blueberries’ like the famous Wymans brand are too.

  3. If eating “paleo” means eating like the ancients, then fruits better be on the menu. Even in the northern reaches of the earth fruits were gathered, though in smaller quantities, and preserved for yearlong use as well. The fruits arent what you would find in the grocery store as there is not a market for small, bland and often poisionous (unless properly prepared) fruits. Any wild food gathering guide will show TONS of “weeds” that you can gather in almost any vacant lot in any city (though I wouldnt recommend gathering within a grimy city). Do some reading, take some plant ID classes, hop in the car, and get outdoors and enjoy natures bounty. Get to see what it was like to be “paleo” and you will quickly realize the energy expenditure to gather a meal will inspire you to be much more active in your diet rather than just making healthier choices.

  4. To clear up the misinformation posted in the article and in comments above, eating fruit can absolutely cause health problems for some people (i.e. those who are overweight, diabetic or pre- diabetic….the exact type of person likely to attempt a “paleo” diet). To the contrary, fructose elevates blood sugar, spiking hunger. Fructose is converted to bodyfat very quickly, which is why heavy fruit eaters have difficulty keeping cellulite off.

    And to shoot down yet another internet myth, high fructose corn syrup is no more harmful to the body than fructose or any other type of sugar. The digestive system processes it the same as “natural” sugars. This has been proven in several university and independant studies.

    A small to moderate amount of fruit is ok for many people but again, usually not those in need of following special diets like “paleo”.

    And to those reading this, educate yourself by taking nutrition courses at the university level. Don’t take my word for it (I am a Registered Dietician btw), learn the facts yourself from LEGITIMATE sources, not an internet blog or message board.

  5. Not sure Jake knows what he’s talking about here, registered dietician and all.

  6. @Jake: I think you are under a misconception about paleo dieters. There are many of us who eat paleo who do not “need” to be on a special diet; we do it because we feel better. The article is specifically speaking to those of us who are not trying to lose weight on paleo, but are doing it as a lifestyle choice. Did you not read “If you’re not eating grains or sugar and you’re a very active person, you want to eat fruit”? I’m running a half marathon in a month and if I didn’t eat fruit I would be one sad, sad girl.

  7. “And to those reading this, educate yourself by taking nutrition courses at the university level. Don’t take my word for it (I am a Registered Dietician btw), learn the facts yourself from LEGITIMATE sources, not an internet blog or message board.”
    Most doctors know nothing about real health and healing; Most business graduates don’t know how to run a business; Most economists don’t know how the economy really works; most political scientists don’t know how a nation is really run; and i guarantee, most dieticians wont know more than someone with an open mind, who is eager to learn from anywhere/anyone, and who has practiced all sort of diets for years with no adherence to structured curriculum. If you knew how life really works, you’d understand that concept. Id say go to uni to study it, but that wont help.

  8. @Mark, and most people who leave comments on a blog (like yourself) have no idea what they’re talking about so what’s your point? The problem with people learning with an “open mind” is that they have no framework to begin with and no model is work on.

    That’s an unfair comparison to say “most dieticians wont know more than someone with an open mind, who is eager to learn from anywhere/anyone”. The knowledge that they have is different. You just made an unfair generalization.

    Please think before you start making blanket statements about other people. I’m not a dietician nor in the medical industry but to say most people in their profession know nothing about what they’re doing is unfair.

  9. Brittany

    @Jake, I took several nutrition courses in college because at one time I wanted to be a dietitian. I learned we should drink lots and lots of (low-fat) milk and eat lots and lots of (whole-grain) bread, coconut oil is bad for you, avocados are to be feared, use canola oil, and any amount of bacon ever is a no-go. I learned that the debate on sugar causing obesity is just one group’s opinion (so sayeth the corn refiner’s association and the beverage industry). Soy is a-okay, GMOs are probably fine, Monsanto’s pesticides save the world. Have you tried baked potato chips instead of fried potato chips?

    I learned that everything should be enjoyed in ~*moderation*~ which is a fabulous way of blaming fat people for their fatness, instead of looking at the bigger picture. For instance: why is the USDA representing farms while telling us what to eat and why doesn’t anyone notice that’s a clear conflict of interests? Why is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sponsored by McDonald’s and Coke? Why is corn syrup and soy oil in everything and could it possibly have something to do with all the lobbyists in Washington? Why are we subsidizing corn, soy, and wheat when we have so much of this stuff that scientists have to invent new frankfoods just to move product? Why the fear of labeling GMOs — if they’re safe, wouldn’t you be proud to put it on your label?

    So you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe everything a registered dietitian has to say.

  10. @Brittany Your reply was brilliant.

  11. @Brittany – Bravo! :)

  12. The only fruit you should eat on a paleo diet is berries. Strawberries, blueberries, etc.

  13. Great comments Brittany. I work in diabetes and athero research and have to push aside all the commonly held beliefs. It is hard but I am willing to learn about alternative views.

  14. I understand that limes and Granny Smith apples are the best fruits, especially if you are insulin resistant (metabolic syndrome).

  15. I think this is a pretty good guide for when to eat fruit. What do you think?

    http://www.precisionnutrition.com/pn-my-plate

  16. I WILL NEVER STOP EATING FRUIT NEVER

  17. Dr.Djedvik

    The only time to slow down on eating fruit is when you begin to develop gas or worse yet “Gas incontinence”! Once the “toots” come it is a sign of byproduct of bacterial fermentation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Then the only thing that will stop you from making the toilet bowl look like Snookie after a fresh spray tan is limiting your fruit intake. However, If you are not eating enough fruit and fiber you will find that a hard jagged rock is growing in your bowels and then you will show up in my ER and I will have to make one of my PA’s dig it out for you. I don’t dig any longer one time I was digging and the man had a coke bottle in his rectum(open end of bottle towards the exit door)…my finger got stuck in the bottle located inside his rectum during a digital rectal examination and they had to wheel both of us down to the OR for an emergent (Get my hand out of morbidly obese PT rectumdamnnearkilledem) episiotomy on a Male which is also unnatural… Moral of the story Paleo or not eat some fruit, but don’t over do it!

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