Fruitarian Diet: Is It Safe — or Really Healthy for You?

Fruit-based diet is heavy on sugar, lacks some nutrients

As a dietitian, I frequently discuss nutritional plans and lifestyles with patients. Many are curious about being vegan or vegetarian. Others are curious about low-carb or high-protein diets. Occasionally, someone will ask me about being a fruitarian – someone who eats mainly fruits.

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The fruitarian diet is one of the most restrictive. The risk of malnourishment is high, so I don’t recommend it. But, if you’re interested in pursuing it or are already doing so, there are things you should know.

What does it mean to be a fruitarian?

Adopting a fruitarian diet doesn’t mean you eat only fruit. Instead, diet descriptions say raw fruit should make up no more than 75 percent of foods consumed. I advise patients to keep their fruit intake to no more than 50 percent to avoid any nutritional imbalances.

Transitioning to a fruitarian diet

If you choose a fruitarian diet, proceed slowly. Transition your diet to include a variety of fruits. And be sure to include nuts, seeds and vegetables with every meal because they will provide the fat and protein you need. They will also help slow down any blood sugar spikes that come from eating only fruit.

Remember that healthy diets include three fruit servings daily. Oily fruits, such as avocados, bananas and coconuts, are good fat sources.

Benefits

Fruits are packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants, including vitamin C and beta-carotene, and some existing research shows fruits can reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

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You might lose weight on the fruitarian diet, but I don’t consider this a true benefit. Any losses are likely to disappear if you abandon the diet, and your weight will creep back up.

Risks

Fruit-based diets can be very restrictive and can cause several problems.

Weight gain: Fruits are heavy in natural sugars. While there are some people on this diet who could lose weight, eating large portions of fruit actually puts you at risk of gaining weight.

Diabetes: For diabetic or pre-diabetic patients, the fruitarian diet can be dangerous. Fruits contain so much sugar that eating too much can negatively affect blood sugar levels. A fruit-only diet can also be dangerous for people with pancreatic and kidney disorders.

Tooth decay: Fruit’s high sugar content can put you at high risk for tooth decay. For example, apples have the potential to be as corrosive as candy or soda. Some fruits, such as oranges, are highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel.

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Nutritional deficiencies: Fruitarians frequently have low levels of vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lead to anemia, tiredness, lethargy and immune system dysfunction. Low calcium can also cause osteoporosis.

Nutritional supplements that fulfill these deficiencies are often made from food sources like dairy cultures or soy protein, which are considered off-limits in the fruitarian diet. This makes malnourishment far more common.

Cravings: Restricting your diet to mainly fruits can lead to cravings or food obsessions.

Starvation mode: By relying mainly on fruits and depriving yourself of needed vitamins, fats and proteins, it’s possible to push your body into starvation mode. If your body feels it’s starving, it will slow down your metabolism in an attempt to conserve energy for vital functions.

Talk to your doctor before starting a fruitarian diet

Before you start a fruitarian diet, I recommend you consult your general practitioner. He or she will likely prescribe the dietary supplements you’ll need to take to overcome the vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

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Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and Outpatient Nutrition Manager in the Center for Human Nutrition.