Do fruitarians only eat fruit or are other foods allowed? Is it a dangerous diet to follow in the long term? We take a close look at this restrictive way of eating.
There are many different interpretations of fruitarianism, but generally followers will eat primarily a plant-based diet, omitting all meat or animal products – it could be described as a type of raw veganism.
The fact that there's no definitive description of a fruitarian diet can cause some confusion and misunderstanding. Each follower often adopts the diet differently, both between each other and during their own time on the diet. However, a commonly cited 'rule' is that between 55% to 75% of the diet should be made up predominantly of raw fruit. Some people also include nuts, seeds and grains.
As well as what we typically consider to be fruit, like apples and grapes, fruitarians may also eat tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and avocado, which – despite being commonly considered vegetables – are actually fruit. Some of these foods, such as avocado, make an important contribution to fat intake, while nuts and seeds provide some protein.
We asked qualified nutritionist Kerry Torrens for her view…
Is a fruitarian diet healthy?
A fruitarian diet, which comprises predominantly of fruit, is a highly restrictive eating regime and as a consequence is unlikely to be balanced.
Fruit is rich in vitamins, minerals and protective antioxidants, which is why including some fruit as part of a balanced diet is a valuable dietary inclusion for most people. It's recommended that we eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables, with the emphasis on vegetables, each day.
However, there are some people for whom even a small amount of fruit can be problematic. These people are intolerant to the natural sugar found in fruit (fructose). For such people, fructose consumption may lead to gut symptoms including abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea and bloating.
Links have also been made between very high intakes of fructose and certain cancers, although more research is needed in this area before any conclusions can be drawn. Current advice from Cancer Research UK remains that whole fruit should be consumed as part of a balanced and varied diet, as it supplies important nutritional benefits, including dietary fibre.
Fruit's natural sugar content may put high consumers at an increased risk of tooth decay, especially when the fruit is juiced.
Which nutrients may be lacking in a fruitarian diet?
Those who follow a strict fruitarian diet are unlikely to get all the nutrients they need. Cutting out many food groups can lead to low levels of vitamin B12 and iron, which may result in tiredness and anaemia. The diet is also likely to be low in calcium, which is needed for strong bones and teeth; it may also be deficient in vitamin D (especially during the winter months) as well as the mineral iodine, needed for normal metabolic function.
A fruitarian diet is likely to be low in protein and essential fatty acids, which are important for growth and repair, as well as for the normal function of the immune system and hormone regulation.
Is a fruitarian diet safe to follow in the long-term?
Adopting a fruitarian diet is not safe as a long-term dietary strategy. Restricting your diet to such a limited range of foods means you are unlikely to achieve a balanced diet and are at risk of malnutrition. Furthermore, fructose – the natural sugar in fruit – at high consumption levels, may be associated with health issues including digestive issues and possible dental erosion.
Is it effective for weight loss?
Some people may lose weight because they are severely restricting the amount of food they eat. However, as a result they are also likely to experience anaemia, tiredness and a weakened immune system. When normal dietary patterns are resumed they are likely to put any lost weight back on.
It should also be noted that some people actually put on weight when they start to eat high quantities of fruit – this is because fruit is high in natural sugars.
Who shouldn’t follow a fruitarian diet?
Those suffering from diabetes or pre-diabetes, with blood sugar issues or pancreatic and kidney disorders should avoid a strict fruitarian diet.
Vulnerable groups, including the elderly, the young (under 18 years of age), those who are on medication, those who have a low body mass index (BMI) and those with emotional or psychological issues around food (including any history of eating disorders) should avoid restrictive diets, as should women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you have any concerns, speak with your GP before embarking on any radical change to your eating patterns.
Please note, if you are considering attempting any form of diet please consult your GP first to ensure you can do so without risk to your health.
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This page was published on 7th November 2019 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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