Is fruit allowed on the Atkins diet

The ‘5 a day’ campaign has been so successful that anyone you ask on the street would tell you that we should all be eating five portions of fruit and veg a day. Fruit is practically the default health food. So is this true and is fruit appropriate on a low-carb diet like Atkins?

Is fruit appropriate on Atkins?

Fruit on AtkinsSo to answer the question on whether you can eat fruit on Atkins –  it depends on your individual carb tolerance and whether you trying to lose or maintain your weight. Fruit contains fructose which is a natural sugar. However, natural or not, it is still sugar to your body and like all other carbs it is converted to blood sugar and used as fuel for the body, with any excess stored as fat. That’s right, when we eat a lot of carbs – if we do not use it all up as energy, it ends up as fat (and most likely around our middle). On Atkins, we reduce the carbs which means that our body switches to using fat for fuel instead. The result of this is that we lose weight. As we work through the four phases on Atkins and approach our goal weight we increase the carbs gradually. By the time we get to the maintenance phase we will have increased the carbs enough to stop weight loss. Simple!

So is it possible to eat any fruit in the weight loss phases on Atkins? That depends on the fruit obviously. If you are in phase one, for instance, you would be eating less than 20g of carbs a day. An orange is about 13g of carbs and a banana is 21g of carbs so a single piece of fruit could be more than your carb allowance for the day. This might be enough to kick your body our of fat burning mode (ketosis), and back to burning sugar. It could also cause carb cravings to return which could be dangerous too! However in Phase two, we re-introduce fruit in the form of berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries etc. Small amounts of berries are relatively low in carbs and are fine on Atkins from Phase two onward.

Later in Phase three and four, you may be able to introduce more fruits depending on your carb tolerance. So for instance, if you are in phase three and have discovered that your carb tolerance is 70g of carbs a day, for instance then you could easily include an orange in your carb allowance. See the table below for carb amounts in fruit. One fruit which you can enjoy on Atkins from day one, are avocados. This fruit is loaded with healthy fats & fibre as well as other nutrients, such as potassium, vitamins K & C. Half an avocado contains has only 1.8g carbs. Try making some guacamole and have it with cut up red pepper or celery as a snack instead of higher carb fruit.

What about the health benefits of fruit?

So naturally, if we are saying that fruit may need to be limited to some degree on Atkins, the obvious question is whether this is the grave nutritional crime it appears to be?! The answer to this is no. Just make sure you are including lots of vegetables in your diet. Vegetables, in the context of overall health, are a richer source of minerals and vitamins as well as dietary fiber but without the extra sugar. The table below demonstrates how the vitamins, minerals found in higher carb fruits can easily be replaced with those found in vegetables. See these vitamin and mineral nutritional charts for lists of foods containing different nutrients.

Fruit Portion size Carbs Nutrition & alternative source of vitamins/minerals
Olives greenOlives 1 olive 0.3  A good source of iron and copper. These are low in carbs so can be introduced early.
AvocadoAvocados Half fruit 1.8  Avocados are low in carbs and acceptable from Phase One. Lots of healthy fats as well as vitamin K and C.
StrawberriesStrawberries 42g 1.8 These are introduced early in phase 2 and are a good source of vitamin C, E and of folate as well as well as potassium, calcium and magnesium
BlackberriesBlackberries 36g 2.7 Introduced early in Phase 2. Good source of vitamin C, K and folate. Also high in  potassium, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium
LemonLemon 1 fruit 3 Low in carbs. High in vitamin C, potassium and phosphorous. Fresh lemon juice can be used as a salad dressing from Phase 1.
RaspberriesRaspberries 31g 3.5 Introduced early in Phase 2. Good source of vitamin C, K and folate. Also high in  potassium, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium
Melon, cantaloupe ballsCantaloupe 44g 3.7 Good source of vitamin C, potassium and phosphorous.
BlueberriesBlueberries 37g 4.1 Introduced early in Phase 2. Excellent source of vitamin K. Also very high in potassium.
LimeLime 1 fruit 5.2 Good source of Vitamin C and potassium. Lime juice can be used as a salad dressing from Phase 1.
AppleApple Half medium 8.7 Good source of vitamin C and high in potassium. Veg high in vitamin C includes kale, spinach, bell peppers, broccoli. Veg high in potassium include bok choi, butternut squash, french beans, parsnips
KiwiKiwi 1 fruit 8.7 High in vitamin K and potassium. Veg high in potassium include bok choi, butternut squash, french beans, parsnips.
Artichoke, Asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are all much higher in Vitamin K than kiwis.
OrangeOrange 1 medium fruit 12.9 High in vitamin C, folate and potassium. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, green pepper and kale are all high in vitamin c. Artichoke and asparagus are much higher in folate. Butternut squash and french beans are much higher in potassium
GrapesGrapes 75g 13.7  High in vitamin K, C and in potassium.
BanannaBanana 1 small 21 Very good source of potassium but butternut squash, french beans, bok choi and parsnips are all higher.

A paper was published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2014 and reported a significant association between eating more fruit and vegetables and death from heart disease and cancer. The great news from the report was that they identified that the health benefits of eating vegetables was greater than that of fruit.

You might be wondering at this point about fruit juice. First of all, many juices that you find in the supermarket are not real juice – they are usually a mixture of concentrate, water and added sugar. But even if you did drink 100% real fruit juice for instance, it can contain as much sugar as a can of coca cola.

  • Coca Cola: 40 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons).
  • Apple juice: 39 grams of sugar (9.8 teaspoons).

Also there are several studies that show drinking fruit juice is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

raisinsSmoothies are better than fruit juice as the whole fruit is used. However eating an orange would be much better than having it in a smoothie – because of the fibre content, water content and chewing resistance – you would not be able to eat the equivalent amount of sugar as easily or quickly as you would get it by drinking it in a smoothie.

Dried fruits like raisins are problematic as well – they are very high in sugar and very easy to consume in large amounts. This packet of raisins has 69g of carbs per 100g – if you ate the packet, that would be almost 260g of carbs – that would be your carb allowance for more than 2 weeks if you were in phase one!

Safe Food who created the guidelines that are followed in Ireland, shockingly recommend the following for breakfast:

Safe food recommended breakfast

According to my calculations the toast (if whole wheat) and banana would come to 30g of carbs and a bowl of cornflakes and raisins could be more than 60g carbs.. Check out our breakfast ideas for much lower carb options and ones that will keep you satisfied until lunch.

The bottom line is – if you are having fruit, eat whole unprocessed fruit rather than fruit juice, smoothies, dried fruit or fruit that is tinned or otherwise processed. And depending on your carb tolerance, choose fruit that is lower in carbs if necessary. Eat a variety of vegetables to make sure you are getting plenty of vitamins and minerals. Also it is obviously much much better to eat fruit even if it is high in carbs than it would be to eat dessert or other highly processed foods. It is a natural unprocessed food after all and one humans have evolved to eat.

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