It's all about the amount and the timing.

Advertisement

Making fruit a daily staple in your diet can offer many health and nutritional benefits—it’s why federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit per day. For some, an added benefit might be that fruit can actually help with weight loss. Yes, fruit contains carbs and naturally occurring sugar, but fruit can still be a vital part of your weight loss journey. The key is to eat it strategically.

What are the best fruits for weight loss?

Truly, there aren’t any specific fruits that can be singled out as best choices for weight management. That’s because a variety of fruits—all fruits—in moderate portions can aid in weight loss.

Natural substances in fruit—including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and prebiotics—are incredibly good for you not only in terms of protecting against chronic diseases, but also for managing your weight. Even if you eat plenty of veggies, skipping fruit means missing out on the unique antioxidants they provide.

Research has even shown a connection between fruit intake and weight loss. One older study found that, among adults who were overweight or obese, those who ate more fruit experienced greater weight loss than those who didn't. Another study, which followed more than 130,000 adults over 24 years, found that consuming fruit was associated with improved weight loss over time.

Just try to fit in a variety of fruit to expose your body to the broadest spectrum of nutrients and antioxidants. In my opinion, no fruit is off limits if you’re thoughtful about the amount and timing.

RELATED: What Is a Calorie Deficit—and Is It Something You Should Use to Lose Weight? Here’s What a Nutritionist Says

Does how much fruit you eat matter for weight loss?

Just because fruit can help with weight loss doesn’t mean you can eat it in unlimited amounts. Fruit does contain carbohydrates, and the job of carbs is to fuel the activity of your cells. When you eat more carbs than you can burn after a meal or snack, even from fruit, the unneeded surplus can either feed existing fat or plump up fat cells.

For this reason, your total carb intake, including fruit, should correspond to your fuel demands, which are based on your height, ideal weight, sex, age, and physical activity level. Most of my women clients can afford to eat two servings of fruit per day (more if they are taller or more active), with one serving being one cup, or one piece about the size of a baseball. 

Does when you eat fruit matter for weight loss?

Since the carbs in fruit help fuel activity, when you eat fruit matters too. Downing a huge bowl of grapes late at night while you’re watching TV or scrolling through social media (when your fuel requirement is low) doesn’t make a lot of sense. Instead, build fruit into the meals and snacks you consume before your more active hours of the day. For many of my clients, that may mean eating a small banana 20 or 30 minutes before a workout or eating berries with breakfast before heading to work and then pairing an apple with almond butter in the afternoon to help power through the rest of the day.

So why exactly do fruits help with weight loss?

The link may be because fruit can help boost satiety, satisfy a sweet craving, and decrease your desire to dig into goodies like candy or baked goods. Fruits also tend to replace higher-calorie treats, whereas veggies tend to be add-ons. In other words, you’re much more likely to choose an apple rather than a piece of broccoli in place of a cookie; and that swap can help you limit total calories and avoid added sugars, the real culprits when it comes to weight gain.

As for sugar, even the strictest guidelines from groups like the American Heart Association and World Health Organization don't lump the sugar from fresh, whole fruit in with added sugar, the refined type used to sweeten foods (think sweetened almond milk, or the spoonful of sugar you add to your morning coffee).

That's because the naturally occurring sugar in fruit is much less concentrated and is bundled with water and a number of key nutrients. For example, one whole orange provides about 17 grams of carb, about 12 of which are natural sugar. But it also supplies fluid, 12% of your daily fiber needs, and nearly 100% of the recommended amount of vitamin C, along with B vitamins, potassium, and substances like hesperidin, which has been shown to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.

Compare that to 1 tablespoon of table sugar, which contains 16 grams of carbs and no nutrients. Essentially, whole, fresh fruit and added sugar don’t belong in the same category.

Bottom line: fruit is incredibly nutritious and not inherently fattening. Its impact on your weight depends on when you consume it and how much of it you eat. Banishing fruit completely can backfire for weight loss and negatively impact your overall wellness. Instead, strike the right balance to reap all the benefits of fruit and still achieve your slim-down goals.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter