A very widespread myth about fruit is still cruising around the popular media. It’s the fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach myth. It’s amazing how this kind of advise gets around so fast and even becomes a common known truth. But are there any evidence based facts that can back up this popular claim? Is there really a best time to eat fruit?
Fruit is a healthy essential food that has the ability to promote health and prevent diseases. It improves artery function and reduces cancer risk. It’s a carbohydrate loaded with additional vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, flavonoids and different phytochemicals. Although the sugar content in fruit can be high it doesn’t seem to have negative effects on weight, blood pressure or triglycerides. In a study where people were put on a very high fiber diet (20 servings of fruit a day) no negative effects were found despite the high sugar and fructose content in this diet. What’s even more interesting is that a significant decrease of LDL cholesterol (33%) was observed.
Eating too little fruit is the greatest dietary risk for death and disease in the world. That’s why popular claims like “fruit is best eaten on an empty stomach” can even become dangerous. Trying to meet healthy daily portions of fruit is challenging enough. Adding one more condition, like eating fruit on an empty stomach, can decrease the amount of fruit you consume. You are more likely to skip a fruit serving if you forgot to eat it at the right time under the perfect conditions. The fact is there are no perfect and special conditions when it comes to fruit consumption.
The eat fruit on an empty stomach myth
The myth about fruit intake states that you should eat fruit on an empty stomach. It claims that it is best to eat fruit in the morning or in between meals waiting at least 30 min. to an hour after a meal. The advice is to eat fruit on an empty stomach, because otherwise fruit can’t be digested quickly enough and will start to rot in your stomach. Certainly nobody want’s anything to rot in their body.
The facts about fruit digestion
Despite it being very popular, this kind of advice isn’t actually backed up by any scientific evidence. The human digestive system digests fruit absolutely the same way as any other food. It gets digested in roughly 3 steps:
Step 1: The stomach
After fruit gets into the stomach hydrochloric acid, enzymes and mucus convert the fruit into a thick soup (chyme) that can enter the small intestine where nutritional elements are extracted from the fruit.
Step 2: The small intestines
Most of the magic of extracting all the health benefits from fruit happens in the small intestine. All nutrients are pulled out here and sent to the rest of the body with the help of specialized cells in the intestinal walls.
Step 3: The colon
After all the nutrients are pulled out of the fruit the non digested parts enter the colon. Most of the matter that can’t be digested are soluble and insoluble fibers. Even these undigested parts have it’s benefits. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to food making you feel full and helps with passing of the stool. This fiber helps prevent constipation and is important for regular bowel movements. Soluble fibers take in water and get a gel like consistency. They are important because they slow down the digestion preventing spikes in blood sugar levels.
If you just give it a second thought, basic science and biology contradicts all the claims that it’s better to eat fruit on an empty stomach:
Fruit won’t rot in the stomach
Fruit is digested like any other food as described above. The fact that fruit needs less time to be digested than e.g. protein doesn’t mean that it’s going to rot in your stomach if you eat it right after a meal. As soon as fruit enters the stomach hydrochloric acid is starting to decompose it. Never mind if you have meat or something else in your stomach as well. There is no waiting time for fruit digestion. As soon as food hits your stomach it starts being digested. So there really isn’t any time for the fruit to rot in the stomach.Also this claim is absolutely impossible if you investigate a little further. For food to rot microorganisms are necessary to decompose the food. The stomach is an environment filled with hydrochloric acid, which is a strong acid that makes it impossible for bacteria to survive. That’s why there are almost no bacteria in the stomach. Without bacteria, there will be no rotting of food.
The shred of truth that lies in this claim is that fruit is digested faster when eaten on an empty stomach. But that is true for all food. All food is faster digested if it’s the only food in your stomach. There is nothing special about fruit here.
You won’t get more nutrients
The other claim is that by eating fruit on an empty stomach your body will get more nutrients out of it. This is also not true. The extraction of nutrients from fruit happens mostly in the small intestines. Any fruit will be digested completely the same way regardless if there is other food to digest as well. Specialized cells in the intestinal walls will pull out single nutrients as they become available. In other words, the body is able to process all food and all nutrients that you provide. It doesn’t make any difference between the carbohydrates of fruit or bread. To your body their all the same. They will all be processed the same way. That’s also true for vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals found in fruit.
You won’t experience any nasty side effects
The fad also claims that if you eat fruit on a full stomach, as a result of the fruit rotting, you can experience gas, bloating, weight gain, dark circles under the eyes even graying hair and balding. As explained before, fruit doesn’t rot in the stomach at all, so these side effects can’t really occur because you’ve eaten fruit at the wrong time.Fruit contains a lot of complex fiber which is one of the reasons why it’s that healthy. Fiber travels mostly undigested to the colon where the present bacteria feeds on it which causes gases as a by product. This happens about 6-10 hours after eating fruit. In this time you will have eaten other things as well. It’s completely irrelevant when and with what you have eaten your fruit when it comes to the effects of fiber.
Fruit is an important part of your diet and can be enjoyed whenever you feel like it. There is no need to restrict yourself to special times in the day to get all the benefits out of fruit. Your health will benefit form fruits the same way regardless when you eat it. So take the planning out of your fruit consumption and enjoy it whenever and how much you want.