You’ve probably already heard that we should avoid eating fruit during or after meals, but is this really based on fact? Is it an old wives’ tale or is there some truth behind it all? Let me shed some light on this.
If you eat fruits after a meal, they remain on top of other foods in the stomach. These other foods will then prevent fruit-related nutrients from being properly absorbed. Digestive enzymes are less effective if there are several food groups in the stomach at the same time.
Furthermore, keeping fruits for longer in the stomach also causes fermentation and, subsequently, symptoms such as bloating and gas.
Digestive enzymes are equipped to handle and fully digest a mixture of ingredients. After all, it’s quite rare for a meal to consist of one single ingredient!
As for fermentation, one thing is clear, there is none in the stomach… Let me explain: fermentation is the process of food being broken down by bacteria. Except, the stomach is a highly acidic environment, primarily because of the hydrochloric acid that is secreted there. It is therefore not conducive to the development of large amounts of bacteria. That’s why there is no fermentation in the stomach. That is not to say that there is no fermentation elsewhere in the digestive system. The large intestine (or colon, for short) is the Mecca of fermentation, and I’ll speak about that a little later.
Food has a long way to travel before reaching the colon: it takes between 6 to 10 hours before any food intake passes from the mouth to the large intestine. All along the digestive system, food is mixed by peristalsis. These are muscular contractions that enable the food bolus to progress from the mouth to the rectum. So the order in which food is ingested doesn’t really matter, because it will all end up getting mixed together once inside the digestive system.
Most micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and lipids) are absorbed in the small intestine. Some nutrients, like fibre and a few minerals, are not absorbed in the small intestine and travel to the colon where they are digested and absorbed.
It should also be noted that fermentation is not necessarily a bad thing. Fermentation of fibres in the large intestine allows the body to produce short chain fatty acids (such as butyrate), or volatile fatty acids, which play an important role in the development and maintenance of a healthy gut flora and may play a role in the overall health of the digestive system and the entire body. For more on the role of fibres and their role in digestive health, watch this video (available in English only).
We can safely say that avoiding fruits after a meal is really a myth! In fact, fruits play an important role in our diet and our health. Under no circumstances should you stop eating them, because they are sources of several essential vitamins and minerals. So feel free to eat them in plenty, both as a snack and during your meals ;-).
To inspire you, here are some recipes in which fruits take centre stage:
Extenso. (1st septembre 2015). Habitudes Alimentaires – Il ne faut pas manger de fruits aux repas. https://www.soscuisine.chextenso.org/article/il-ne-faut-pas-manger-de-fruits-aux-repas/ (page accessed on 29 october 2015)
University of Missouri Extension. New trend of eating fruit only on an empty stomach is poor advice.https://www.soscuisine.chextension.missouri.edu/cass/documents/Nutrition%20and%20Health/New%20trend%20of%20eating%20fruit%20only%20on%20an%20empty%20stomach%20is%20poor%20advice.pdf (page accessed on 29 october 2015)