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Ask Tufts Experts September 2011 Issue

Q: Should fruit be eaten on an empty stomach to ensure proper digestion?

Answer :  Ashley Dunham, a dietetic intern at Tufts’ Frances Stern Nutrition Center, replies, “No, fruit does not need to be eaten on an empty stomach. The body is designed to digest foods alone or in combination. There is no scientific research to support the claim that fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach for better digestion.

“The concept that fruit must be eaten separately from other foods has been promoted by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond in their book, Fit for Life. They propose that fruit, when eaten in combination with other foods, is prevented from passing into the small intestines and thus begins to rot and turn into acid. It is suggested that because fruit is not digested in the stomach, it will putrefy and lead to heartburn and discomfort.

“Foods do not rot inside our digestive tract. In reality, all foods get broken down into their component parts, which then get absorbed and used by the body. Fruit, which is mainly carbohydrate and fiber, starts getting digested in the mouth, does not get digested in the stomach and finishes getting digested in the small intestines. While it is true that the stomach is a very acidic environment, this is actually very beneficial to us because it offers us protection from microorganisms and helps to break down proteins and absorb calcium.

“Another thing to keep in mind is that fruit raises blood sugar. So, although eating fruit on an empty stomach is not necessarily harmful, you may want combine it with protein and/or fat to minimize its effect on blood sugar. An easy way to do this is to pair fruit with a handful of nuts or an ounce of cheese. Including a small amount of healthy fat with your fruits and vegetables also helps your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins D, E, K and A.”

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