Perfectly ripened fruit is worth the wait. But wait too long, and you may want to pass on that peach. Because the sugar content in fruit rises as it ripens, people who are sensitive to fruit sugars may experience digestive distress after eating overripe fruit.
High levels of the fruit sugar fructose in overripe fruits can cause digestive upset for sensitive people.
Overripe Fruit Facts
Firm fruits that turn to mushy messes in a few days are disappointing. But it's the cycle of life for these naturally sweet treats and you have to strike while the iron's hot, so to speak. If you don't and you pick up a pear past its prime, you'll notice it's much softer and sweeter than its less-ripe counterpart.
Fruit ripening is a complex process involving genetic changes affecting the texture, color, flavor, scent and firmness of the fruit, as well as the sugar and organic acid contents. A gaseous compound called ethylene that fruits produce also plays a major role in the ripening process. In underripe fruit, ethylene levels are very low, but fruits produce increasing amounts as they ripen, according to the University of Maine.
Not all fruits produce the same amounts of ethylene, and certain species of fruits produce more ethylene than other members of the species. Bananas, which become brown and mushy after just a few days, are a common example. Some types of apples, including McIntosh, produce large amounts of ethylene and so are more likely to ripen quickly after harvesting. Some types of plums and peaches are also more susceptible to the effects of ethylene.
Fruit Sugar and Digestion
Fruits contain three types of natural sugars — glucose, sucrose and fructose. The amount of fructose in fruits is highest compared to glucose and sucrose, and it's the type of sugar that some people have trouble digesting.
Fructose intolerance occurs when the body can't properly process and absorb fructose. Undigested fructose travels to the bowels, where it comes into contact with naturally occurring bacteria. The reaction between the two causes the symptoms of gastric distress, which may include:
- Abdominal pain
According to the American Gastroenterological Association, symptoms typically appear approximately two hours after consuming fructose, but effects and timing depend on the individual. Fructose intolerance is believed to affect 40 percent of people in the Western world, reports the National Institutes of Health Genetics Home Reference.
Hereditary fructose intolerance is a separate condition, even though it sounds the same and shares similar symptoms. Typically diagnosed in infancy when babies are first exposed to fruits and fruit juices, hereditary fructose intolerance can cause bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and low blood sugar.
If fructose is repeatedly consumed, it can damage the liver and kidneys, causing jaundice, enlarged liver and liver disease, or cirrhosis. Continuing to consume fructose can result in seizures, coma and even death from kidney and liver failure.
If you have hereditary fructose intolerance, there's a good chance that you stay away from fruits, whether perfectly ripe or overripe, as Genetics Home Reference reports that most people with the condition develop a natural dislike for fructose-containing foods.
Preventing Digestive Upset
The amounts and types of fruits an individual with fructose intolerance can eat without experiencing digestive upset will vary from person to person. Generally, it's advised to avoid fruits that are higher in fructose. Mayo Clinic reports that some individuals may be able to eat smaller amounts of low-fructose fruits such as bananas, blueberries, strawberries and avocados.
UVA lists these other fruits as being "intestine friendly" when consumed in moderation:
- Honeydew melon
- Passion fruit
Serving sizes are generally one-half cup of fresh fruit or one medium-sized whole fruit about the size of a baseball. Limit your intake to one to two servings per day and try to consume fruit with a meal rather than on its own. Also, fresh or frozen fruit may be better tolerated than canned fruit, according to UVA.
Overripe fruits are prone to developing moldy patches. But that doesn't mean you can't eat them or that they will make you sick if you do. According to the Food and Drug Administration, it's fine to eat fruit with moldy patches as long as you remove the affected area. Cut off approximately one inch around the mold and avoid allowing the knife to touch the mold to prevent potential cross-contamination.
Keeping Fruits Fresh
If overripe fruits don't agree with your digestive system, there's no need to suffer. If you follow a few steps, you can keep fruit fresh for longer and enjoy it when it's still at the peak of ripeness.
Choose produce that is free from soft spots, bruises, cuts or any signs of decay. Store most fruits in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that list includes:
The following fruits should be ripened at room temperature and either eaten right away or transferred to the refrigerator:
Bananas, mangos, papayas and pineapples do not need to be refrigerated, but they should be stored in a cool place.
Keep fruits that produce more ethylene separate from those that don't produce as much. The EPA advises storing bananas, apples and tomatoes by themselves. Additionally, fruits and vegetables should not be kept in the same bin.
Use plastic storage bags and other containers designed to prolong the life of fresh fruits. Some of these products work by removing the ethylene gas that accelerates ripening. Lastly, buy only what you know you can eat within a few days.
- Plant Biotechnology and Agriculture: "26 - Fruit Development and Ripening: A Molecular Perspective"
- Frontiers for Young Minds: "How Do Fruits Ripen?"
- University of Maine: "Cooperative Extension: Tree Fruits"
- American Gastroenterological Association: "Fructose Malabsorption"
- National Institutes of Health Genetics Home Reference: "Hereditary Fructose Intolerance"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fructose Intolerance: Which Foods to Avoid?"
- University of Virginia Health System: "Low Fructose Diet"
- FDA: "Molds on Food: Are They Dangerous?"
- EPA: "Smart Storage"