Best Fruits to Eat If You Have Diabetes

Tips for Incorporating Fruit Into Your Meal Plan

You may have heard at some point that you cannot eat fruit if you have diabetes. Perhaps someone even told you that watermelon and bananas are off limits because they are too sweet. Neither of these is entirely true. You can enjoy fruit, you simply need to make smart decisions about which fruits and how much you eat.

Oranges and pomegranate
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Fruits and Diabetes

Fruits have many health benefits—they contain vitamins, minerals, filling fiber and antioxidants. Fruit can be beneficial to a diabetes meal plan if eaten in moderation. The key to eating fruit is to make sure you eat the right kinds in the appropriate portions.

The fiber found in fruit can help to prevent blood sugar spikes, may aid in pulling cholesterol away from your heart, and increase feelings of fullness, resulting in less food intake. Fruit is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, which can help reduce your blood pressure.

On the flip side, fruit is a carbohydrate and it contains a natural sugar called fructose. Carbohydrates, whether from bread, milk, yogurt, potatoes, or fruit, get broken down during digestion and turn into sugar or glucose. For this reason, it's recommended that people who have diabetes monitor how many carbohydrates they eat, including fruit servings.

When choosing fruit you'll want to take a few tips into consideration:

Avoid Dried Fruit and Fruit Juices

Dried fruit, especially if it is sweetened, is higher in carbohydrates per serving than natural whole fruit. It also contains more sugar because sugars are often added for flavor and can be lower in fiber if the skin has been removed. Just four tablespoons of raisins (1/4 cup) will cost you: 120 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, and 24 grams of sugar.

It's also best to avoid all fruit juices. Even 100% fruit juice causes instant spikes in blood sugars because the flesh of the fruit, which contains fiber, is discarded. It is also easy to drink an excess amount of calories without realizing it. For example, 1 cup of 100% fruit juice contains 130 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates, and 28 grams of sugar.

Instead of dried fruit or fruit juice, opt for whole fruit—fresh, frozen, or canned—without added syrups or sugars.

Keep Portions in Check

The American Diabetes Association recommends about 45% of total daily calorie intake come from carbohydrates. If you are following a fixed, consistent carbohydrate meal plan, you need to factor in fruit as a carbohydrate choice. When choosing fruit, try to stick with one fruit serving per meal or snack and limit your fruit servings to no more than about two to three per day.

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

  • 1 small-sized (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, honeydew)
  • 15 grapes or cherries 
  • 1/3 medium mango
  • 1 1/4 cup strawberries
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup raspberries and blackberries (contains 8 grams of fiber)

There are some fruits that you should be more cautious about. For instance, it's recommended that bananas, cherries, grapes, mango, and pineapple be eaten only in the limited quantities noted, as they can cause a fast spike in blood sugars due to their higher carbohydrate content.

If you are looking to get the most value for the biggest portion, you will want to choose fruits that are very high in fiber, such as berries. For example, you can eat 1 1/4 cup of strawberries for 15 grams carbohydrates.

Choose Fruits With a Lower Glycemic Index

The American Diabetes Association suggests that you choose fruits that have a low glycemic index. The glycemic index, or GI, is used as a reference to measure how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose.

Foods are rated based on how they raise blood sugars in comparison to a reference food such as sugar or white bread. A food with a high GI will raise blood glucose more than that of a food with a medium or low GI.

Most fruits have a low to moderate GI, with the exception of pineapple and watermelon. That doesn't mean you can never eat pineapple and watermelon, but if you notice that your blood sugar spikes after eating either, it's best to avoid them in the future. It's also important to note that the GI of a food is different when eaten alone than it is when combined with other foods. For example, if you are eating a high GI fruit, such as watermelon, pairing it with a low GI index food, such as low-fat cheese can help to balance out the effect on blood sugar levels. Here are some examples of low, moderate, and high GI fruits: 

  • Low GI fruits (55 or less): apples, pears, mango, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, grapefruit, pear, nectarine, orange
  • Moderate GI fruits (55-69): cherries, mango, papaya, grapes
  • High GI fruits (70 or greater): watermelon, pineapple

Note this information, while also keeping in mind that everyone has their own trigger foods which will spike blood sugars more than others. Additionally, the riper a fruit is, the more it affects your blood sugar. 

Lastly, consider this: some nutritious foods have a higher GI than foods with little nutritional value. For example, oatmeal has a higher GI than chocolate. When using the GI, balance it with basic nutrition principals and eat a variety of healthy foods and less of foods with few nutrients. 

Pair It With Protein

Some people find that pairing fruit with a protein can help slow down a rise in the blood sugars. You can do this by incorporating fruit into your meal allotment for carbohydrates or add protein to your fruit snack. 

For example: 

  • 1 4-ounce apple slice with 1 tablespoon almond butter 
  • 1 cup raspberries with 1 small non-fat Greek yogurt 
  • 1 small peach with 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

Get the Most Out of Your Fruit Choices

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 disease-fighting phytochemicals. Vitamin C is an important water-soluble vitamin that is involved in repairing cells (particularly important for wound healing), slowing down aging, and boosting immunity. Additionally their rich color—red, blue, and black comes from anthocyanins. Research suggests that anthocyanins may help fend off certain chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease.

Citrus fruits, such as tangerines, also contain vitamin C, and potassium (which can reduce blood pressure) and are a good source of fat soluble vitamin A, an important vitamin for eye health. Citrus fruits, also contain phytonutrients which can protect cells from damage, reduce inflammation, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, and provide other health benefits. But, if you are on a potassium restricted diet or take cholesterol-lowering medication you may have to watch your intake of citrus fruits so make sure you discuss intake with your physician before adding them to your meal plan. 

A Word From Verywell

The notion that you have to avoid fruit on a diabetic diet is a myth. However, it is important that you make the best choices and always consider the carbohydrates in fruits, which will convert to sugar and may cause a spike in your blood sugar. Choose wisely and keep your portions under control and you should be able to enjoy some fruits. If you have questions, be sure to ask a member of your healthcare team.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the lowest glycemic index fruits?

    Some of the lowest glycemic index fruits include cherries, grapefruit, pears, apples, apricots, tangerines, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and plums.

  • What are the highest glycemic index fruits?

    Some of the highest glycemic index fruits include watermelon, pineapple, and overly ripe bananas (under-ripened bananas fall into a moderate glycemic index).

  • What are some other low glycemic foods?

    Other lower glycemic foods that are good for people with diabetes to incorporate into their diets include chickpeas, lentils, navy beans, kidney beans, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, other non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, almonds, peanuts, pecans, skim milk, almond milk, low-fat cheese, and other low-fat dairy.

  • How is diabetes managed?

    There are a variety of management and treatment options for diabetes, including keeping blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels in a healthy range. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and keeping up with regular doctor visits are also important ways to manage diabetes.

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