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Is the fruitarian diet safe? Dietitians weigh in on the fruits-only diet

Ashton Kutcher landed himself in the hospital twice after following this diet.
Many fruits on a pink background.
Maryna Terletska / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Fruits are a necessary part of any diet. Packed with nutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals, they’re undeniably healthy — so healthy in fact that some people are cutting out all food groups in favor of a fruits-only diet. Among them are the late Steve Jobs and Ashton Kutcher, who developed pancreatitis while on it.

The fruitarian diet typically calls on those following it to limit the contents of each of their meals to fruits only. A variation of a vegan diet, fruitarianism goes beyond merely cutting out animal products — if it’s not fruit, you’re probably not eating it.

Here's what to know about following a fruitarian diet.

What is the fruitarian diet?

“The fruitarian diet is a vegan diet that focuses primarily on consuming fruits,” registered dietitian Vandana Sheth explains, though some of the diet’s followers will make exceptions for some nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables. And the fruits you eat will usually be raw, registered dietitian Keri Gans adds.

The diet typically excludes animal products including meat, dairy, eggs and seafood, along with grains, legumes and processed foods.

Will it help you live longer?

The idea behind the diet is that the antioxidants in the fruits will help you live longer, but the experts spoke to are skeptical about that. The “evidence is insufficient” when it comes to linking the diet to longevity, says Sheth.

“A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds has been associated with decreased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers (and) cognitive decline,” says Sheth, but that doesn’t mean those are the only foods you should have in your fridge. By missing out on other essential nutrients, you’ll be depriving your body and therefore hurting it.

Is the fruitarian diet healthy?

No, it’s not. “This diet is not healthy as it is lacking in many important nutrients our (bodies) need to perform optimally, such as protein, iron, B12, calcium and vitamin D,” Gans explains. Following the diet can lead to malnutrition, and she doesn’t recommend it.

While fruit is rich in antioxidants and helps with satiety and hydration, says Sheth, fruit alone is simply not enough. The unsteady research behind the fruitarian diet is lacking in long-term evidence.

It “can be restrictive, increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, inadequate protein intake, risk health complications and may increase risk of tooth decay,” she adds. You'll be missing out on essential omega-3 fats, which serve our hearts, lungs and immune and endocrine systems. This diet isn't for anyone, but it's especially detrimental “for those with blood sugar concerns, kidney and pancreatic disorders,” says Sheth.

Who follows the fruitarian diet?

The diet is likely appealing to “those motivated by environmental, ethical and health reasons,” says Sheth, but, again, they’d be missing out on the many nutritional reasons to stay away from this diet. Gans says that following the diet may also be a sign of disordered eating.

The 2013 Steve Jobs biopic “Jobs” depicted the former Apple CEO as a staunch follower of the fruitarian diet. At the film’s premiere, Ashton Kutcher, who played Jobs, told USA Today he’d followed the fruitarian diet like Jobs did to prepare for the role. He’d committed to it until, just days before filming began, he was hospitalized.

“First of all, the fruitarian diet can lead to, like, severe issues,” Kutcher said. “I went to the hospital like two days before we started shooting the movie. I was like doubled over in pain,” Kutcher said. “My pancreas levels were completely out of whack.”

Kutcher’s wife, actor Mila Kunis, confirmed Kutcher only ate grapes at one point and found himself in the hospital again thanks to the diet. “We ended up in the hospital twice with pancreatitis,” she said.

What should I eat instead?

“For anyone interested in following a fruitarian diet, I would highly recommend meeting with a (registered dietitian) to help you address potential health risks and ensure nutritional adequacy,” says Sheth. They’ll probably tell you not to follow the diet.

Instead, opt for a well-rounded diet that includes “plenty of fruits and veggies (cooked or raw), adequate protein, 100% whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy fats,” adds Gans. A healthy diet doesn’t have to include animal products if that’s something you’d prefer to stay away from. Focus instead on incorporating plant-based proteins, legumes and seeds in your meals to optimize your health, says Sheth.