5 Myths and Truths About the Best Time to Eat Fruit
Myth 1: Always Eat Fruit on an Empty Stomach
This myth claims that eating fruit with meals slows digestion, and causes food to sit in your stomach and ferment or rot. This myth also claims that eating fruit with meals is what causes gas, discomfort and a range of other unrelated symptoms.
While it’s true that the fibre in fruit can slow the release of food from your stomach, the rest of these claims are false. Although fruit can cause your stomach to empty more slowly, it does not cause food to sit in your stomach indefinitely.
One study found that in healthy people, fibre slowed the time it took the stomach to empty half its contents from an average of 72 minutes to 86 minutes. While this change in speed is significant, it’s not slowing digestion down enough to cause food to spoil in the stomach. Slowing the emptying of your stomach is actually a good thing. It can help you feel full for longer, which might help you eat fewer calories in the long run.
However, if fruit did cause food to sit in your stomach for significantly longer than usual, your stomach is specifically designed to prevent the growth of bacteria, which is what causes fermentation and rotting. When food reaches the stomach, it’s mixed with stomach acid, which has a very low pH of about one or two. Your stomach contents become so acidic that most microorganisms cannot grow.
The claims saying that eating fruit with meals is the cause of bloating, diarrhea and discomfort is equally misleading. There is also no scientific support behind the idea that eating fruit on an empty stomach can affect symptoms like fatigue, longevity or dark circles under the eyes.
Eating fruit with a meal can slow the emptying of your stomach but only by a small amount. This is a good thing as it may help you feel more full and cut back on calories.
Myth 2: Eating Fruit Before or After a Meal Reduces Its Nutrient Value
This claims that you need to eat fruit on an empty stomach to reap all of the nutritional benefits. It goes on to say that if you eat fruit right before or after a meal, the nutrients will somehow be lost. However, this is not true. The human body has evolved over time to be as efficient as possible when it comes to extracting nutrients from food.
When you eat a meal, the stomach acts as a reservoir, releasing only small amounts at a time so that your intestines can easily digest it. Even the small intestine is equipped to absorb as many nutrients as possible.
Studies have shown that your intestines have the ability to absorb twice as many nutrients as the average person consumes in one day. This huge absorptive area means that getting the nutrients from fruit, and your meals, is easy work for your digestive system, regardless of whether you eat fruit on an empty stomach or with a meal.
Your digestive system is more than able to digest and absorb the nutrients from fruit, whether it’s eaten on an empty stomach or with a meal.
Myth 3: If You Have Diabetes, You Should Eat Fruit 1–2 Hours Before or After Meals
This myth claims people with diabetes often have digestive problems, and eating fruit separately from meals somehow improves digestion. This is bad advice for most people who have diabetes. There is no scientific evidence supporting the idea that eating fruit separately from a meal improves digestion. The only difference it might make is that the sugar contained in fruit may enter the bloodstream faster, which is exactly what a person with diabetes is trying to avoid.
Rather than eating fruit separately, eating it with a meal or as a snack paired with a food that is high in protein, fiber or fat is a much better choice for someone with diabetes. This is because protein, fiber and fat can cause your stomach to release food into the small intestine more slowly. The benefit of this for someone with diabetes is that a smaller amount of sugar is absorbed at a time, leading to a smaller rise in blood sugar levels overall.
However, it’s true that some people with diabetes develop digestive problems. The most common issue is called gastroparesis. It happens when the stomach empties slower than normal or not at all. Even though dietary changes can help with gastroparesis, eating fruit on an empty stomach is not one of them.
For the majority of diabetics, eating fruit on an empty stomach is a bad idea. Adding fruit to a meal or snack is usually a better choice.
Myth 4: The Best Time of Day to Eat Fruit Is the Afternoon
There is no real logic or evidence to support this idea. It is claiming that your metabolism slows down in the afternoon and eating a food that’s high in sugar, such as fruit, raises your blood sugar levels and “wakes up” your digestive system.
The truth is that any carb-enriched food will temporarily increase your blood sugar while glucose is being absorbed, regardless of the time of day.
However, apart from providing your body with energy and other nutrients, this has no special benefit. There is no need to “wake up” your digestive system, as it’s always prepared to work the moment that food touches your tongue, no matter what the time is.
While eating a meal high in carbs might temporarily cause your body to use these as fuel, it doesn’t change the overall rate of your metabolism.
The reality is that there’s no harm in eating fruit in the afternoon. Fruit is healthy any time of the day.
Myth 5: You Shouldn’t Eat Fruit After 2:00 in the Afternoon
The theory is that eating fruit or carbs after 2 p.m. raises your blood sugar, which your body does not have time to stabilize before bed, leading to weight gain.
However, there is no reason to fear that fruit will cause high blood sugar in the afternoon. Although your carb tolerance may fluctuate throughout the day, these changes are minor and do not change your overall metabolic rate.
There’s also no reason to fear that eating fruit in the afternoon will cause weight gain. Your body does not simply switch from burning calories to storing them as fat when you go to sleep. Your metabolic rate does tend to decrease as you fall asleep, but you still burn plenty of calories to keep your body running.
Many different factors determine whether calories are burned for energy or stored as fat, but avoiding fruit after a certain time of day isn’t one of them. There is also no evidence that avoiding fruit in the afternoon affects weight.
However, there is overwhelming evidence that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables throughout the day tend to weigh less and are less likely to gain weight. When it comes to weight loss, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is one of the best things you can do. It’s a great way to get the nutrients you need, whilst filling up on healthy, low-calorie foods.
Furthermore, if you’re avoiding fruit in the afternoon and before bed, you’re eliminating a healthy, whole-food option for a snack or dessert.
Eliminating fruit after 2 p.m. has no benefits and doesn’t affect your weight. Eating fruit is a good idea at any time of the day.
Jones. T, ‘5 Myths About the Best Time to Eat Fruit (and the Truth)’, www.authoritynutrition.com/best-time-eat-fruit/, June 2016.