The Best Way To Eat Fruit

Ask Healthy Living: Is There A 'Wrong' Way To Eat Fruit?
grapes in a wooden basket....
grapes in a wooden basket....

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I have read many articles saying to eat fruit on an empty stomach because it can ferment when eaten with other foods. Then some articles say it does not matter when you eat fruit because it takes hours for your body to digest anyway. So when is the best time to eat fruit?

-- Jacquelyn

Fruit is an incredibly healthy food group: packed with vitamins, nutrients, fiber and water. But there have been some nutritional claims circulating that suggest fruit can also be damaging if eaten in conjunction with other foods. The basic premise is that high-sugar fruits help to ferment the other digested foods in a "full" stomach, causing gas, indigestion and other problems. While it's true that fruit helps accelerate fermentation in things like bread starters, the idea that it could do so in a stomach is completely false.

"There is no need to eat any food or type of food on an empty stomach. This myth has been around for a long time. There is no science to support it even though proponents make scientific-sounding statements," Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, author of Diabetes Weight Loss -- Week by Week, told HuffPost Healthy Living by email.

Fermentation is a process in which bacteria, fed by sugars, colonizes on food and changes their compositions. Fermented foods include things like wine, yogurt, bread and kombucha. To occur, a ferment requires bacteria. But stomachs, with their high concentrations of hydrochloric acid, are hostile environments that kill bacteria far before they are able to colonize and reproduce.

"One of the main purposes of the stomach is to sterilize food by mixing and churning it within the muscular, acid-containing stomach,” Dr. Mark Pochapin, director of the Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center told the New York Times in an article on the topic.

Another claim, that the body has trouble digesting the carbohydrates in fruit in combination with other foods is also not supported by the science. "The body produces digestive enzymes for protein, fat and carbohydrates and releases them from the pancreas together," says Weisenberger. "If we could not digest mixed meals, we would not even be able to digest most foods since most foods are a combination of nutrients. For example, even vegetables like green beans and broccoli are a mix of carbohydrate and protein."

What's more, gas is produced by the colon -- not the stomach. So while fruit can cause gas in some people, the contents of their stomachs will have little relevance. But Jacquelyn is correct about one thing: according to Pochapin, food reaches the colon about six to 10 hours after we eat it. So while fruit isn't damaging to eat at any time, it is also true that we spend many hours digesting it anyway.

Ultimately, the better question is how much -- rather than when -- we eat healthful foods like fruit.

"The concern should not be empty stomach or with a meal. Rather the concern should be how can I eat more of this health-boosting food group," explains Weisenberger.

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