One of the most common questions I get asked is “How much fruit should I include on the Autoimmune Protocol?”. Just having completed the 21 Day Sugar Detox, I have a renewed perspective on the role of sugar in the form of fruit in my diet. The answer isn’t simple, so I thought I would dedicate a post to it.
First off, fruit itself is not restricted on the Autoimmune Protocol. Different varieties of fruit (especially colorful ones) come loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are a great compliment to a healing diet. While fruit can have a lot of sugar, that in itself is not reason enough to avoid it. When we eat fresh, whole fruit, we are getting the nutrients in a nice little package with fiber, nutrients, and water.
Worried about the sugar content in fruit? Sarah Ballantyne, in The Paleo Approach (p.123) advises limiting fructose between 10-20 grams per day. Taking that into consideration, that is about 2-5 servings, depending on the fructose content of a particular fruit (here is a link to a nice table).
Dried fruit, however, can be problematic because of its high glycemic load, and should be reserved for the occasional treat. I find dried fruit particularly easy to over eat and only reserve the use of say dates in a dessert or something, never as a snack.
What if I react to fruit? This is another question I get asked often. Even though fruit is allowed, some people have GI symptoms when eating it. This is usually a sign that dysbiosis, or an imbalance in gut flora is present. If this is due to SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), a person might react to fruits high in FODMAPs, like apples, pears, peaches, grapes, and watermelon. Some people also have fructose malabsorption, which would mean that they don’t tolerate any foods with a high fructose content. If you don’t tolerate fruit for a reason you suspect is not an allergy, I would suggest finding a practitioner and getting tested for FM or gut pathogens that could be contributing to your symptoms. Aglaee Jacob’s book, Digestive Health With Real Food is an excellent resource for anyone trying to troubleshoot digestive issues.
Fruit’s affect on blood sugar balance. One reason to restrict fruit might be if you have issues with blood sugar regulation. If you find yourself shaky, crabby, with a headache, or ravenous between meals, and those feelings are relieved by grabbing a banana… I hate to tell you that you aren’t doing yourself a favor. This doesn’t mean to starve yourself through a low-blood sugar crash, by any means! A better idea would be a small meal with fat and protein—think half a sausage patty and some guacamole, leftover veggies cooked in coconut oil, or vegetable chips and pate. I have a personal rule that I never consume fruit between meals without some sort of fat—this means a scoop of coconut concentrate on an apple. After my vegan days, my body knows all to well what it is like to be on that blood sugar roller coaster, and I am not going back!
Your personal threshold. Having said all that, its best to find an amount of fruit that works for you and your healing process. I think 2-5 servings of fruit is a reasonable amount, but I also recognize that some people do better with either no fruit or more than that amount. After my experience completing the 21 Day Sugar Detox, I realized that I do better restricting my fruit intake but not restricting my starch intake. This means, for me that I eat only a piece of fruit a day, if that, but I am sure to eat some starchy vegetables like squash, sweet potato, plantain, taro, or yam at 2 or 3 of my meals.
I also like to let my intake of fruit wax and wane with the seasons. Right now, there isn’t a lot of fruit in season, save for citrus. I have been enjoying a lot of grapefruit, since that was allowed on the 21 Day Sugar Detox. I’m sure in summer, I will be enjoying berries and stone fruit, as they come in to season here in the Northwest.
I hope that helps clarify some of the confusion over sugar, and if you have any more questions be sure to ask away in the comments!