In recent years, with the advent of the internet and social media, there is a lot of misinformation and myths about nutrition and diet that is being circulated. One of these myths that has been doing the rounds for quite some time and creating confusion in the minds of people is about what is the best time to eat fruit and how should one consume fruit. Till date there is no concrete scientific evidence to suggest any of the above. This article seeks to dispel these myths by providing the scientific truths about fruit consumption.
Myth 1: Fruit must always be eaten on an empty stomach:
This is one of the most popular myths regarding fruit consumption and claims that eating fruit with or after meals slows digestion and causes food to remain in the stomach and ferment. This myth also claims that eating fruit with meals causes gas, discomfort and a host of other unrelated symptoms.
While it is true that the fibre in fruit causes the stomach to empty more slowly, thereby helping one feel full for longer, it does not cause food to remain indefinitely in the stomach. When food reaches the stomach, it’s mixed with hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which makes the contents become so acidic that most microorganisms cannot grow so there is no chance of food rotting or fermenting.
The rest of the claims that say that eating fruit with meals is the cause of bloating discomfort or diarrhoea are equally misleading. The truth is fruits contain certain types of carbohydrates that are referred to as FODMAPs (Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) which are sugars that are poorly digested and absorbed in the small intestines of some people regardless of how fruit is eaten. FODMAPs are osmotic in nature and draw water into the colon and are rapidly fermented by naturally-occurring colonic bacteria producing hydrogen and methane gases. This combination of liquid and gas distend the intestine and signal nerves surrounding the digestive organs to overreact resulting in symptoms like lower abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and flatulence.
Myth 2: Eating fruit before or after a meal reduces its nutrient value:
There is no scientific evidence to prove that you need to eat fruit on an empty stomach to absorb its nutrients. The small intestine has a huge absorptive area which means that it is easy to absorb the nutrients regardless of whether fruit is eaten on an empty stomach or with a meal
Eating fruits especially citrus fruits, amla or yellow orange fruits that are rich in vitamin C after meals has a positive benefit on iron nutrition as vitamin C helps increase the absorption of iron from the meal. Eating fruits after meals also reduces the urge for a sugary dessert thereby helping to keep ones caloric intake in control.
Myth 3: If you have diabetes, you should eat fruit one to two hours before or after meals:
There is no scientific evidence supporting this theory. In reality, when an individual suffering from diabetes eats fruit on an empty stomach the fruit sugars enter the blood stream at a faster rate causing the blood sugar levels to spike which is not desirable. So rather than eating fruit separately, eating it with a meal or as a snack paired with a high protein food or fat is a much better choice because the protein and fat cause the stomach to release food into the smaller intestine more slowly resulting in a smaller amount of sugar being absorbed at a time leading to a smaller rise in blood sugar levels overall.
Some people with diabetes develop digestive problems, the most common one being gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach empties at a slower than normal rate. Although certain dietary changes can help people with gastroparesis, eating fruit on an empty stomach is not one of them.
Myth 4: The best time of day to eat fruit is in the morning:
There is no scientific evidence to support this theory. Fruits can be eaten at any time of the day.
To conclude, fruits are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and should be an important part of a healthy diet. Myths about the best and worst time to eat fruit are totally baseless and untrue.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)