Many online sources claim that people can get better health benefits from fruit if they eat it in the afternoon, on an empty stomach, or if they avoid eating fruit along with specific foods. There is no evidence to support these claims.
In this article, we explore the various myths linked with when to eat fruit, along with ways to time fruit intake for weight loss and diabetes management.
There are many myths concerning when to eat fruit. Below, we discuss four of the most common myths and the evidence behind them.
Myth: Afternoon is the best time to eat fruit
Fruit is an excellent option for an afternoon snack.
Some sources state that eating fruit in the afternoon can provide more health benefits than eating fruit in the morning. Others say differently, claiming that the best time is first thing in the morning with a glass of water.
However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that eating fruit in the morning or afternoon changes how fruit affects a person's health.
The theory behind eating fruit in the afternoon is based on the idea that eating a high-sugar snack during that time can raise blood sugar levels and "wake up" the digestive system.
However, all carbohydrate-containing foods raise blood sugar levels, and the time of day has little effect on this. The digestive system is always prepared to begin operations at any time of day.
That said, when choosing an afternoon snack, fruit is an excellent option. Fruits are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, meaning that they take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, such as white bread. This can help keep people fuller for longer and avoid unhealthful snacks during the day.
Fruits also provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and health benefits. Consuming fruit with a healthful fat or protein can provide balance and more sustainable energy. Enjoy fruit with a small handful of nuts or seeds or some avocado for a nutrient-dense snack.
Myth: Avoid eating fruit before bed
Generally speaking, eating a full meal in the hours before sleeping can interrupt a person's sleep cycles. However, when snacking at nighttime, fruit is less likely to interfere with sleep, compared with other foods, especially processed foods.
According to The National Sleep Foundation, eating certain foods before bed can interfere with sleep due to the body's digestive processes. They recommend avoiding foods with processed sugars just before bed, as these can cause energy levels to rise and fall quickly. Choosing fresh fruit may be a better option.
They add that eating a banana before bed provides potassium that may prevent nighttime leg cramping. Including fruits with higher magnesium, such as plantains, apricots, or dates, can also aid in relaxation and better sleep.
Myth: Eat fruit on an empty stomach
Some people believe that eating fruit on an empty stomach provides greater health benefits. This myth has been popularized mainly through websites and email chains.
The idea is that eating fruit with a meal slows down digestion, meaning that food sits in the stomach for a long time and can rot or ferment. The theory says that this causes gas, bloating, and digestive discomfort.
While it is true that fruit slows down digestion — fruits are high in fiber, which slows the progression of food through the digestive tract — this is not a bad thing. Fiber is an important part of all diets and boosts gut health. Slower digestion also helps a person feel full for longer.
Even if fruit remained in the stomach for an unusual length of time, the fruit would not have a chance to rot due to the stomach's ability to prevent bacterial overgrowth. Most microorganisms are incapable of growing within the acidity of the stomach.
People with gastrointestinal issues should speak with a doctor or dietitian about specific needs and remedies that may help the process of digestion.
Myth: Diabetes and fruit separate from meals
Another claim states that the best time for people with diabetes to eat fruit is 1–2 hours either before or after a meal.
This myth is based around the idea, as discussed earlier, that eating fruit with a meal can interfere with digestion, and that this can especially affect a person with diabetes, due to common co-occurring digestive problems.
Firstly, there is no evidence suggesting that eating fruit separate from meals will improve digestion. Secondly, for someone with diabetes, eating fruit alone can cause the sugars to enter the bloodstream more quickly, potentially raising blood sugar more than when eating fruit with other foods.
Rather than eating fruits separately, a person with diabetes can benefit from pairing fruits with other foods that are high in protein, fiber, or fats.
According to research, protein, fiber, and fat help the stomach slow the release of food into the small intestine. This way, the body absorbs smaller amounts of sugar at a time, which limits its effect on blood sugar levels.
Research also shows that soluble fiber can reduce a rise in blood sugar, which can be very beneficial for people with diabetes. In addition, enjoying a piece of fruit before a meal can help deter overeating, as it aids in feeling full sooner.
When to eat fruit for weight loss
A person may eat less if they follow a high-fiber diet.
While there is no overall magic timing, there might be better times to eat fruit for someone with a goal of weight loss. Since fruits tend to be high in fiber, they can help a person feel full for a longer period of time.
According to a 2017 study, a high-fiber diet can help someone eat less. Since taking in fewer calories promotes weight loss, people aiming to lose weight could benefit from planning their fruit consumption.
Eating nutritious, low-calorie fruit before a meal may make a person feel fuller and therefore make them less likely to overeat during or after their meal. Eating fruit alongside a meal can help a person eat fewer high-calorie foods.
Replacing high-calorie snacks with fruit — at any time during the day — is a great way to promote weight loss.
The best time to eat fruit for people with diabetes
When a person has diabetes, carbohydrate-containing foods can cause big spikes in blood sugar levels. Over time, repeated spikes can lead to lasting health complications.
Fruits contain carbohydrates, including sugars, and they can therefore affect blood sugar levels. However, fruits have a low glycemic index rating, meaning that they have less of an effect on blood sugar levels, compared with other foods. This is due to their higher fiber content, making them a good choice for people with diabetes.
To reduce the effect of fruits on blood sugar, people with any type of diabetes can pair fruit with other foods or even a meal higher in protein or fat. The fruit's fiber can cause sugars to enter the body's small intestine more slowly.
Eating fruit separately from meals could result in sugars entering the bloodstream too quickly, unless a person pairs the fruit with a healthful protein or fat.
Speak with a doctor, a dietitian, or a diabetes educator regarding specific carbohydrate needs and how to incorporate them appropriately while managing any type of diabetes.
Fruits are a healthful food that provide the body with many beneficial nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
There are many myths surrounding the best times to eat fruit, but little scientific evidence to back them up. There is no perfect time of day for eating fruit. Most people can pair fruit with or without a meal at any time of day.
People can, however, plan their fruit intake to help promote weight loss or reduce the effects on blood sugar levels.