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Food & Nutrition

Fresh fruit and the low carb diet – how to find the balance?

One of the most popular weight-loss diets out there is the low carb diet, which basically means reducing the amount of carbs in your diet. Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. Carbohydrates can be quite elusive, in the sense that not all of them are bad, and even the most innocuous foods can be rich in carbs, like certain types of fresh fruit. So, what do we do?

Normally, anyone giving you advice about nutrition would tell you to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, if you want to lose weight and choose to follow a low carb diet, fruits aren’t always your friends. But they are essential to any healthy diet, regardless of your weight loss goals, so… How do we find balance?

Portion control

Portion control is the single most important strategy in weight loss, even for healthy stuff, like fruit and exercise. It’s certainly better to eat a bowl of fresh fruit instead of munching on a candy bar at snack time, but if your bowl of fruit is the size of a salad bowl, you might as well go ahead and eat the candy bar, because the number of calories you’re eating will be roughly the same.

But this depends on the fruit, too, especially on how “sugary” it is. Of course, fruits are a cornucopia of vitamins and antioxidants, so you should try to eat as many as you can, but don’t go overboard thinking “the more the better” – you could make yourself sick, upset your stomach and end up eating more “sugary” calories than you accounted for.

Watch out for sugar content

Speaking of sugar – don’t deceive yourself into thinking fruit is sugar-free. Fruits contain fructose, a simple carbohydrate similar to glucose, which is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, providing instant energy, and boosting insulin levels. This can be both good and bad. Eating fruit when you’re very hungry and tired immediately satisfies your hunger and makes you feel more energetic.

But simple sugars are those that cause weight gain, and after the momentary satisfaction has passed, you will feel hungry again, possibly more so than before, because of how quickly it is absorbed. Moreover, fruit calories are still calories – a simple banana carries around 100 calories. So, if you’re on a low carb diet, choose your fruits wisely – a good indicator is the glycemic index, which shows how much your insulin levels will rise from eating that particular item.

A more reliable indicator is the food’s glycemic load, which also accounts for the typical serving size of that particular food – for instance, raisins and bananas have similar glycemic indexes, but the serving sizes differ, so their overall glycemic load will be different, too.

Tip: look for fruits recommended for diabetes – these fruits, particularly berries and citrus, are low in sugar and highly nutritious.

Don’t eat fruit as a dessert

Fruits are great as snacks, even for breakfast, because they are satiating and they boost your energy instantly. But because they are rich in fiber, fruit spends quite a bit of time in your system before being digested, and the fructose they contain can cause fermentation in the presence of yeast or bacteria, in your intestines. This can lead to stomach problems, such as acid reflux, bloating, and flatulence.

That is why many nutritionists advise eating fruit on an empty stomach, and not as dessert after a hefty meal, so you can digest them in peace. Also, if you eat them after the meal, you will end up eating significantly less fruit than you would as a stand-alone snack.

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