Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Yes, you can eat too much fruit (and dairy!)

This is a typical (yet extremely simplified for purposes of this post...) conversation in my consultation room at work;

Me:  "I'm sorry you are having trouble losing those last 10 pounds, let's take a look at what a typical day of eats might look like for you.  Ok?"

Client:  "Sure thing....I wake up, have some fruit, cereal and milk, go to work, have an apple for a snack, have lunch, typically a sandwich and fruit, have dinner, usually chicken or a lean protein and whole wheat pasta and a couple glasses of milk, and maybe some fruit for dinner".

Me:  "Hmmmm, ok.  I think we can work on a few things here...."

Client:  "But I thought I was doing so well!"

Me: "You are, this sounds really great in many ways.  First off, you're starting your day with breakfast, that's amazing.  Second, you're eating lean proteins, getting some calcium and vitamin D, and lots of nutrients from your fruits.  Heck, you're even eating whole grains.  But.....you need to reduce your milk and fruit, and increase your vegetables, specifically your non-starchy vegetables"

Client:  "Reduce my fruit and dairy?!  I thought they were healthy!"

Me:  Well, they are healthy, but so is extra virgin olive oil, and dark chocolate, but you surely shouldn't be eating a lot of those!

Client:  "Well, that's different"

Me:  "Is it?"

Ok, maybe those examples are slightly different, but they are examples I like to use because both EVOO and dark chocolate are loaded with great nutrients, but that doesn't mean more is always better.  The same can be said about dairy products, fruit, and starchy vegetables.

Remember this (below)?  It's called Choose My Plate and it's based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  You can go to the website and get your own personal recommendations as to how many servings (cups) of fruits, vegetables, and dairy you need in a day (all are sources of carbohydrate), as well as ounces of protein and grains (grains are also a source of carbohydrate).  In my opinion the recommendations tend to be a little too high, especially for those trying to lose weight, but....either way it's a good starting point.

Are you ready for a little lesson on carbohydrates?  Don't worry, I'll make it short and sweet.

Carbohydrates (Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen bound together) come in two (well...three) forms:
  • Simple: mono- or disaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose, maltose, sucrose, and lactose); these are mainly found in dairy, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and carrots.
  • Complex polysaccharides (starches such as legumes, corn, potatoes, bread, and cereals)
  • Fiber: On food labels, fiber is considered a carbohydrate. This is because fiber is a type of polysaccharide, which plays a structural role in plants. Humans cannot digest fiber.
When you look at a food label, this is what you see:

The cereal above has 24 total grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of which is from indigestible dietary fiber, and 10 grams of which is from simple sugar (monosaccharides) and the other 12? They are from starches, which aren't listed on the label, but sometimes are listed as "Other Carbohydrates"

When you look at a label for milk or plain yogurt, you may see this:

Strange? You wouldn't think milk or plain yogurt would have any sugar, but lactose (a type of simple sugar) is found in all dairy products.  As you can see sugar makes up 90% of the carbohydrates in this yogurt. Remember, sure is a carbohydrate.  In my opinion, there should be an alternative sub-category called "Added Sugar". Would you know that the plain yogurt above has zero added sugar? I know that because there isn't any sugar listed on the ingredient label.  All of the sugar in this product must be from lactose, a naturally occurring sugar.

Ok, so how many grams of total carbohydrates should you eat in a day (including your simple sugars and starches, and even fiber)?  Most people need anywhere from 45% to 60% of their calories to be from carbohydrates.  Here are some examples of the math;

240 grams carbs/day, on a 1600 calorie diet, is 60%

200 grams of carbs/day, on a 1600 diet, is 50%

300 grams of carbs/day, on a 2000 calorie diet, is 60%

250 grams of carbs/day, on a 2000 calorie diet, is 50%

When I counsel people on weight loss and/or management, I typically recommend sticking to a 50% carbohydrate diet (or sometimes even 45%).  This really depends on their activity level.  When I work with athletes the recommendation usually goes up.

Here are some things to keep in mind;

1 cup of most dairy products = ~15 grams of carbohydrates, or more (usually more, because most people eat yogurts with added sugar, or they add their own in the form of honey!)

Source: iStock Photo

1 small piece fruit = 15-20 grams of carbohydrate, or more, because many people get their fruit in the form of juice, which can have much more than 15-20 grams of carbohydrate in a cup.  The same goes with dried fruit, which can have tons of added sugars, in addition to the naturally occurring sugars found in fruit.

Source: iStock Photo

So, let's say you eat 3 cups of fruit and 3 cups of dairy a day, that could easily add up to 90-120 grams just from your healthy dairy and fruit.  Oh, but let's not forget the grains, the starchy vegetables, and extra sugars found in desserts, snack bars, instant oatmeals, etc, which you will surely be eating as well!  Do you see how easily you could go over the above recommendations for total carbohydrates?!  So, what's wrong with too many carbohydrates?  To put it in simple terms, the more carbohydrates we eat, the more insulin we produce, and the more hungry we get (especially if we eat them without fiber, fat, or protein).  Carbohydrates are a quick source of energy that don't take much work to digest and use by our bodies.  We need carbohydrates, yes, but we don't need the amount we are consuming here in America.

This Banana Split Oatmeal breakfast looks healthy, and let's be honest, it is!  But the original recipe called for double the fruit, which would have made this way too carbohydrate-rich, in my opinion.  Fruit is good for us, but that' doesn't mean more is always better, especially in one sitting.  And the same goes with "natural" honey or agave.

Here are a couple things to read, if you aren't convinced.

  • My blog post from last year about my encounter with a women who was following Weight Watchers' new points system, and eating way too many fruits (which are considered "Free").

  • Is sugar really that bad for you?  This is a great article from CNN.com. They talk about how we can definitely consume too much sugar, and how it's not good for us, whether or not it's from agave, honey, sugar in the raw, or whatever.  They briefly discuss how sugar from fruits, starchy vegetables and dairy shouldn't be avoided, but I would add that they do need to be limited.

Natural or not, all sugars are treated the same in our body.  Carbohydrates/sugars are best when found in whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products, but not because those carbohydrates/sugars are better for us, but because they are found in healthier foods!  In other words, the sugar found in fruit is no better for you than the sugar found in cake, but the fruit is a better choice because those sugars are coming with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals! 

My opinion?  Put the tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots, and peppers from this photo in place of the breads and pastas.

Bottom Line:  You can eat too much dairy, fruits, and starchy vegebales. Yes, they are healthy, but you need to limit your intake.  Period.  They still come with calories, and they still come with carbohydrates (and thus, sugars). Want to go wild? Go overboard on non-starchy vegetables.

My brother Joe, about 3 years ago, learning at a young age that non-starchy veggies are so yummy.

QUESTION:  What kind of questions do you have for me? Any? Comments, concerns? Let me know in the comment section!

Thanks for reading!

The Candid Rd
NOTE: I love comments!  But, be sure to come back to read any replies to questions or comments, as they do not go directly to your e-mail.


  1. Great points, Gina!

    I don't eat a lot of fruit, but I add some to my green smoothies in the morning. I have a friend who used to eat a lot of fruit all day long and couldn't lose any weight until she let go of a lot of the fruit.

    I have always noticed the sugar in no-sugar-added, plain yoghurt.

    I recently started watching my carb intake a bit more, and I have noticed that I don't get hungry so quickly. It really makes a difference.

  2. These are such great points. I always have family and friends that tell me they eat so healthy but are gaining/can't lose weight. And most of the time it just the fact they are simple eating too much of those good things!

  3. Very, very valid. I run in a circle of crazy people: semi-professional mixed martial arts fighters and semi-pro bodybuilders, who are all extremely fit and all eat very clean diets year-round. But when they need to cut weight for a fight or competition, they eliminate fruit and dairy. So if it works for the already-lean/already-clean, it's definitely going to be effective for your average person. Fruit's just SO convenient, delicious, and available, though -- I have to make a very conscious effort to limit myself to one or two servings a day.

    1. Agreed, fruits ARE convenient, but vegetables can be too (think baby carrots and cucumbers, sliced. I also include string cheese with my veggies!)

  4. I feel as though this was my first consultation with you!!! Just insert chocolate syrup, jelly and "You've eaten your daily allotment of added sugar by breakfast!" and it would be me ;) See you in a few weeks with my more veggie filled diet.

  5. Hi Gina,we were JUST talking about this at our weight watchers meeting last week. I learned my lesson when I was first starting out and the weight wasn't shifting. I now count my fruit as a point, and still watch my portions.
    Hope everything is going well for you!

  6. Same goes for smoothies. I have a lot of friends who are doing the smoothie challenge circulating FB and SP pages. Most are filled with too many fruits, yogurts, almond/soy milks not enough veggies. When I saw a nutritionist last year, she cautioned me on my daily smoothies because I was making mine with peanut butter, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit in addition to the banana, protein powder and 2 handfuls of spinach - yes, all in one smoothie.

    My question for you is your opinion on Coconut Oil. The current rumor is that a tbsp a day helps decrease belly fat. Can you help dispel that rumor?

    1. Hey LaShaune. Read my post about coconut oil here;

      Basically, there is some research to support it's benefits for weight loss, but it's no miracle, that's for sure. 1 Tbsp per day though isn't much, so it's worth trying. Don't use more though because the calories aren't low at all, and by using more you may be canceling out the benefits by eating too many calories!

  7. This is terrific information for those of us working on those last 10 pounds. When you have so little to lose, it can be frustrating trying to cut more out of your diet, but I've found that I'm often satisfied longer when I add a handful of my favorite veggies into the mix.

  8. You make a really good point. I was just thinking about Weight Watchers the other day and the possible 'misuse' of free points. Also, I think that anyone should be able to eat what they'd like but in moderation. I think Weight Watchers skews this idea. Some people are ingesting Lean Cuisines, Low-fat/Fat-free foods thinking they're doing their bodies good because they are staying within their point range; however, even if they're loosing weight, they are still damaging their bodies with the GMO's/artificial ingredients within these 'safe' foods. Sorry for the rant :) I saw that link you posted and it got me going :) I really like your blog by the way - Lindsey from the Lean Green Bean shared this post on her site. I'll have to follow you from now on!

    1. haha, I love passionate rants about nutrition!! Please, feel free to rant any time! I've had plenty of rants (some even against my opinions....) on this blog and I'm always willing to read and "listen"!
      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words about my blog.

  9. Thank you for this post! My drawback was always carbs, I guess. Not directly as I used to think, I used to see carbs as breads, pasta, rice, etc but then I realized how much I really eat sugar: plain yogurt and fruit, seriously SO much. I would have days where I ate no veggies and all sweet foods. I felt that since I was eating plain greek yogurt (sweetned with stevia), it was fine... but even though I was always under my calorie goal there was just no more losing weight and I was becoming more and more obsessed with eating yogurt and sweet foods. This makes SO much sense. Thank you again!

    1. Yep, many people hear "carbs" and think, PASTA and BREAD, but I remind people about the Adkins diet...remember how they couldn't eat yogurt or fruit or even veggies?! Well...that's when we are realized, WOW they have carbs too!
      Keep up the great work :)

  10. I find this very interesting as I eat a lot of dairy and fruit. If I could ask a quick question and give you a snap shot of my day, would you mind giving me your opinion? For breakfast I typically have an apple or pear and a yogurt. I also typically have a banana and a yogurt with lunch. Dinner is where I get most of my veggies and is usually strictly protein and veggies with maybe a bread/grain carb thrown in. Does this seem completely unbalanced to you?

    1. Hi Debbie! No, this doesn't sound unreasonable at all. Is it a high protein yogurt? One with at least 10 grams of protein? Also, are the fruits on the smaller end, rather than LARGE bananas or a LARGE apple? And then of course, are you snacking in between? Hopefully on higher protein foods like light cheeses or cottage cheese, or granolas with protein (and lless than 10 grams sugar) or maybe even some raw crispy vegetables?
      Sounds like you've got a well balanced diet!

  11. I finally feel I have some direction as to where I am going wrong - thank you so much for this article. I now need to re-plan my cereal, yoghurt and fruit eating habits. The only things I am doing right so far are the amounts of good veggies and protein. So back to the drawing board to write a new shopping list.