Yuri, when is the best time to eat fruit?
This is a question that many people never think to ask until they start to get serious about their diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Previously, you probably just bought a piece of fruit, sliced it up and then ate it. You didn’t really give timing a second thought. You just ate the fruit because you felt like eating it, and you knew it was healthy for you!
Here’s the thing: there’s a right time to eat fruit and a wrong time to eat fruit. Eat fruit at the right time, and you’ll be giving your body a great boost. That’s because the simple carbs in fruit—when released quickly—give you a boost of instant energy in addition to providing you with a whole host of other benefits.
Eat fruit at the wrong time, however, and you could develop symptoms of indigestion while missing out on all the great benefits of fruit, including that lightning bolt of energy.
Why You Should Know When to Eat Fruit
Fruit is basically instant energy on tap—so why wouldn’t you want to eat it all the time?
Here’s why: fruit is mostly composed of sugar and water, as well as lots of enzymes that the body works through really quickly. Its simple sugars are divided into two types:
Fructose has a bad rep for being the “bad twin” of simple sugars, while glucose has been studied to be our primary source of energy.
Each sugar is metabolized differently by your body. Fructose has a high glycemic load but a low glycemic index and can cause more cellular damage than glucose. It’s found mostly in fruit and veggies, and like glucose, is a good source of energy.
The thing to be mindful of is that you don’t consume too much of either sugar too quickly, especially if you have a health issue such as diabetes.
Too much glucose can cause serious issues with this condition if it is released too quickly into the bloodstream. This can happen in diabetic patients whose pancreas is not so great at releasing adequate amounts of glucose into their bloodstream.
[Related: How to Stop Your Addiction to Sugar]
Once you have eaten a piece of fruit, fructose is transported from your stomach and into your bloodstream where it eventually makes its way to the body’s cells. The sugar is then burned through a process known as glycolysis, which then releases energy that your cells can now either use or store.
When you eat fruit at the wrong time, you’re not giving the fruit a chance to release these sugars into your bloodstream efficiently, and you’re also slowing down the digestion process. As such, you’re just not getting the full benefits. Just as the digestive process is slowed down, so is the release of energy.
The instant fuel that fruit is supposed to give you just never appears. This is why knowing when to eat fruit is so important.
When to Eat Fruit: the Wrong Time
A lot of Mediterranean cultures eat their fruit on top of a large meal. This habit has been copied by plenty of other cultures around the world. Perhaps you’ve been doing this for years.
But this is the wrong time to eat fruit because, when you pair it with protein, fats and carbs, you’re basically dumping the fruit on top of all that other food in your stomach. This makes the fruit ferment inside of you. It just sits there, not doing much—except rotting in your gut.
It certainly isn’t digesting as quickly as would otherwise.
The bottom line is that this can give rise to burping, hiccups, halitosis, as well as a whole host of other symptoms that we associate with indigestion.
This all comes down to the wrong combination of foods. A steak may slow you down, but a steak with some fruit on top of it? That’s far worse.
The Right Time to Eat Fruit
The right time to eat fruit is always by itself on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning.
This is because the digestive process is able to work at optimum speed, and the sugars contained in fruit are absorbed completely by your body. You’re essentially getting the full benefits and reaping all the rewards.
When your stomach is empty, it is able to process all the good stuff—the fibre, the nutrients and the sugars we mentioned above. It’s free from other distractions and can focus on the job at hand.
This was the “original” way that people used to eat fruit. Foragers still eat this way because they know it’s the most natural way to eat fruit.
For lighter meals, such as a green salad for lunch, it’s okay to eat a piece of fruit two hours afterwards.
For heavier meals, such as pasta, pizza or burgers, it’s better to wait four hours.
Simply follow the basic principles here and you’ll be fine. Any time the question about when to eat fruit comes up, just remember: on an empty stomach.
Don’t Combine Your Fruits with Anything Else
The particulars of combining foods may sound complicated, but there really are just a few simple rules:
- Don’t mix proteins and starches
- Keep an eye out for various different types of proteins
- Keep your acids and starches separate
- Keep your sugars and starches separate
Oh, and always eat fruits on their own.
The idea that fruits should be eaten by themselves on an empty stomach was probably well-known to our ancestors, but it certainly got lost somewhere down the years.
However, it was Dr William Howard Hay who made this idea popular again when he formulated the Hay Diet. Dr Hay was the first mainstream doctor to warn against the combination of starches and proteins, and he discovered that fruit should be eaten entirely by itself because our health is so affected by the chemical process behind digestion.
According to Hay’s findings, our body uses an alkaline digestive process for carbs, but that the digestion of proteins involves acids. If you mix the two together, you basically have a strange chemical experiment going on in your digestive tract.
Hay classified fruits as acids, and he also noted that fruit requires very little digestion. However, we complicate that process when we combine it with other foods.
Think of it like this: Fruit is the energetic sprinter who wants to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. With an uncluttered track, the sprinter is able to do just that.
However, when you clutter the race track up with hundreds of other runners who are really sluggish, the sprinter is not going to be able to reach the end for quite a long time. He will be carried away by the lethargy of everyone else.
Fruit only takes 30 minutes to leave your stomach, whereas proteins can take up to three hours. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to get fruits out of the way and fill yourself up later.
It’s Easy to Apply These Rules
It’s really easy to eat fruit on an empty stomach. People say to me that they find it hard to squeeze fruit into their daily diet so that they’re eating it alone, but all it comes down to is making very small, incremental adjustments to your diet to make this work.
Let’s look at it this way: most people eat three large meals a day—breakfast, lunch and dinner
Eating fruit for breakfast is a good way to start the day. Not only does fruit clear out your system straight away, but eating it for breakfast means that you’re also eating it on an empty stomach. Perfect.
It’s worth noting, though, that eating fruit for breakfast is not the best time to eat fruit because fruit is fine to eat at any time of the day.
You can eat what you normally do for lunch, but instead of munching on a piece of fruit straight afterwards to keep you feeling full, why not wait two hours to have it as an afternoon snack instead?
You can apply the same rule after dinner, too. Instead of eating your strawberries or clementine straight after your meal, why not wait a couple of hours instead?
What About the Smoothies?
You might be wondering about smoothies, which often combine fruit with protein and carbs. Are these ok?
They certainly are, because the foods have all been blended together. This makes it a whole lot easier for your stomach and digestive tract to digest and absorb the food and nutrients.
There is no other food impeding their exit from the stomach, and therefore there is nothing for the fruits to sit on top of. The fruit doesn’t ferment; instead, it just gets digested really quickly.
There are a lot of different surface areas here that are being exposed to lots of different enzymes and this enables your digestive system to work really efficiently.
Blended fruit essentially swims smoothly through your stomach, whereas whole fruit—when eaten straight after macronutrients—just sits, ferments and rots. Not cool.
Any Times When Eating Fruit on a Full Stomach Is Okay?
You’ll want to eat fruit on a full stomach when you have a condition that regularly sends your blood sugar levels out of whack if you don’t keep a lid on it, such as diabetes or hypoglycaemia.
As you likely know, the last thing you want is a quick release of sugar that can send your blood sugar levels soaring.
If you have either of these conditions, you probably want to pair your piece of fruit with a protein, such as combining an apple with peanut butter or almond butter.
These proteins and fats will slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream, which is of course hugely beneficial.
I hope this gives you some much needed insight into when to eat fruit. As with so many other things in life, timing is everything!
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.