An Overview of Eating Fruit When You Have Diabetes

Fruit is not forbidden but some choices are better than others

Assorted Fruit Arrangement
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If you have diabetes, chances are someone has said that you should avoid eating fruit. But whole, fresh fruit is packed full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making it a nutrient-dense food that can certainly be part of a healthy diabetes treatment plan. However, certain fruit choices may affect your blood sugar levels more than others. You'll just need to make smart decisions about which fruits you consume and how much you eat.

All About Fructose

The primary sugar found in fruit is called fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and is capable of bypassing a rate-limiting enzyme that signals when cells have had too much sugar, which is the danger in consuming high-fructose corn syrup. The fiber found in fresh fruit, however, can slow down the metabolism process, but depending on the fructose and fiber levels, certain fruits may cause your blood sugars to spike at a quicker pace than others. The tricky part of measuring a response is that everyone responds to food differently. While one person may be able to eat apples without any issue, someone else may find that apples cause their blood sugar to spike. Testing your blood sugar before and after eating fruit can help you to determine which fruits are best for you.

Fiber

The fiber found in fruit, both soluble and insoluble, can help prevent blood sugar spikes, may aid in pulling cholesterol away from your heart, and increase feelings of fullness, resulting in less food intake. The fiber content may change depending on the state—whether the fruit is fresh, steamed, baked, stewed, etc. Fresh, whole fruit has the most fiber, as the cell walls are still intact. Cooking breaks down the fiber structures in the fruit and can make the body's metabolism job easier‚ but that also means the sugars are more readily available for absorption.

Your best bet is to look for fruits with edible peels, such as apples, pears, and berries, and to limit those that need to be peeled, like bananas, melons, and citrus.

Antioxidants

The deep reds, purples, blues and other rainbow hues found in fruit belie their antioxidant-rich status. Antioxidants are plant-based compounds that work to fight free radicals in the body, helping the body repair from all types of stress. The more colorful your food, the more antioxidants it likely boasts. Skipping out on fruit altogether means you'd be missing out on these plant powerhouses.

Types of Fruit to Limit

However, there are a few forms of fruit that should only be consumed in limited amounts if you have diabetes: dried fruit, fruit juices, and fruits that may be high in sugar and low in fiber.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit, while delicious in trail mix and on salads, is a super concentrated form of whole fruit thanks to the drying process, which means that it's higher in carbohydrates per serving than fresh, whole fruit. It may also contain added sugar and could be lower in fiber if the peels have been removed. Just one ounce of raisins (two tablespoons) contains 100 calories, 23 grams of carbs, and 18 grams sugar. This yields almost 5 teaspoons of sugar. In contrast, one whole cup of fresh grapes contains 62 calories, 16 grams of carbs and 15 grams of sugar.

Juice

Even 100 percent fruit juices can cause glucose spikes. The body doesn't have to do a great deal of work to break down the sugar in juice thanks to the removal of nearly all fiber. Juice, therefore, is metabolized quickly and raises blood sugars within minutes. Juice can also tack on extra calories without affecting your satiety and therefore can prevent weight loss and even promote weight gain.

Swap fruit juice and dried fruit for whole fruit—fresh or frozen—wherever you can, and reap the big benefits of fiber and nutrients.

High-Glycemic Fruit

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranked list of how certain foods will affect your blood sugar. The glycemic index can vary based on several factors, such as how much of a fruit you're eating, and how that fruit is prepared, but it can be helpful when meal planning with diabetes. It's important to know that the riper a fruit is, the higher its glycemic index, which means that fruit will raise your blood sugar more than a food with a low glycemic index.

Foods considered to have a low GI value are at 55 and below. Pineapple (GI = 56) and watermelon (GI = 72) are considered high-GI foods, whereas blackberries (GI = 4) and grapefruit (GI = 25) are considered low GI foods.

Keep an Eye on Portions

When choosing fruit, try to stick with one fruit serving per meal or snack and limit your fruit servings to no more than two to three per day.

Keep in mind that one serving of fruit equals about 15 grams of carbohydrate. How much of each fruit you can eat within that one-serving limit will depend on the type of fruit. Here's a list of what is considered one serving for common whole fruits: 

  • 1 small piece (4 ounces) apple, orange, peach, pear, or plum 
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 2 small or 1 large tangerine (4 ounces total)
  • 2 small (2 ounces each) kiwi 
  • 4 small (1 ounce each) apricots
  • ~1 cup of melon (cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew)
  • 15 grapes or cherries 
  • 1/3 medium mango
  • 1 1/4 cup strawberries
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup raspberries or blackberries

You'll have a better chance at keeping your blood sugar controlled if you avoid dried fruit and juice, and pair your fruit with a protein and/or fat, like topping cottage cheese with pineapple, adding berries to a protein smoothie, or dipping apple slices into nut butter or tahini.

Types of Fruit to Include

There's no "good" or "bad" fruits (or foods, for that matter), but if you're looking to get the most nutritional value for the biggest portion, set your sights on fruits that are very high in fiber. For example, you can eat 1 1/4 cup of strawberries for 60 calories, 15 grams carbs, 3.5 grams fiber, and 7.5 grams sugar or only 1/2 medium banana which is 60 calories, 15 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, and 8 grams sugar.

When choosing fruit, you'll want to think about portion size, convenience, cost, and flavor, but also health benefits. Certain types of fruit, such as berries and citrus fruits, can be beneficial for people with diabetes. 

Berries are rich in vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. The rich red, blue, and black hues of berries belie their phytonutrient content—these pigments are courtesy of a compound called anthocyanin which research suggests may help fend off chronic disease like cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, citrus fruit such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes contain a high amount of vitamin C along with vitamin A and potassium. The phytonutrients found in citrus have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce cell damage, and protect against cardiovascular disease as well.

A Word From Verywell

If you're following a diabetes-friendly meal plan, there's no real reason why you should avoid fruit altogether. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fresh fruit can be a powerhouse of nutrition, as long as you keep portions in check. Make sure to work with a dietitian or nutritionist to determine what a smart intake of fruit looks like for you.

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