Best Fruits to Eat if You Have Diabetes

Tips for Incorporating Fruit Into Your Meal Plan

At some point, you may have heard that you cannot eat fruit if you have diabetes. Or maybe someone told you that you can eat fruit, just not extra-sweet options like grapes or watermelon.

Neither of these statements is entirely true. You can enjoy fruit if you have diabetes. You simply need to make strategic decisions about which fruits you pick and how much you eat.

This article will discuss the ways fruit can impact diabetes both positively and negatively, as well as what fruits to favor or limit—and why.

Oranges and pomegranate
Helen Yin / Stocksy United

Pros and Cons of Eating Fruit When You Have Diabetes

Fruits have many health benefits, some of which are particularly helpful to those with diabetes.

The fiber in fruit can:

  • Help prevent blood sugar spikes
  • Help pull cholesterol away from the heart (diabetes puts you at greater risk for high cholesterol and heart disease)
  • 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. It also contains antioxidants, substances that help thwart cell damage.

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 (glucose).

For this reason, it's recommended that people who have diabetes monitor how many carbohydrates they eat, including fruit servings.

To balance all of this, you'll want to keep a few things in mind when selecting and eating fruit.

Avoid Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is higher in carbohydrates per serving than natural whole fruit. It also often contains more sugar, as sugars are sometimes added for flavor. Dried fruit can also be lower in fiber than its whole counterpart if the skin has been removed before dehydration.

Just four tablespoons of raisins (1/4 cup) rings in at 120 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, and 24 grams of sugar.

Opt for whole fruit—fresh, frozen, or canned—without added syrups or sugars instead.

Pass on Fruit Juices

It's also best to avoid all fruit juices. Even 100% fruit juice causes instant spikes in blood sugar. That's because the flesh of the fruit, which contains fiber, is discarded during the juicing process.

It is also easy to take in an excessive amount of calories while drinking juice without realizing it. For example, 1 cup of 100% fruit juice contains 130 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates, and 28 grams of sugar.

Recap

Avoid dried fruit and fruit juice, which are high in sugar and have little to no fiber. Though natural, the sugar in fruit (fructose) can also spike your glucose levels.

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.

Try to stick with one fruit serving per meal or snack. 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 tangerines or 1 large tangerine (4 ounces total)
  • 2 small (2 ounces each) kiwi 
  • 4 small (1 ounce each) apricots
  • About 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

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. That's because they can cause a fast spike in blood sugars due to their higher carbohydrate content.

To get the most nutritional value, choose fruits that are high in fiber, such as berries. For example, you can eat 1 1/4 cup of strawberries for 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Recap

To keep your carbohydrates at a healthy level, limit your fruits to two or three per day. Choose foods that are high in fiber, like berries, to get the most nutritional value out of each portion.

Choose Fruits With a Lower Glycemic Index

The American Diabetes Association suggests that you choose fruits that have a low glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index 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 compared 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 these, 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, with a high GI fruit, such as watermelon, consider eating it with a low GI food, like low-fat cheese. That 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 to 69): cherries, mango, papaya, grapes
  • High GI fruits (70 or greater): watermelon, pineapple

Keep in mind that everyone has their own trigger foods that 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, eat a variety of healthy foods and fewer foods with few nutrients. 

Recap

If possible, choose fruits that are low on the GI index to help limit blood sugar spikes. Take note of any fruits that tend to increase your blood sugar more than others.

Pair It With Protein

Pairing fruit with a protein can help slow down a rise in blood sugars. You can do this by including fruit in your meal allotment for carbohydrates or adding protein to your fruit snack. 

For example: 

  • 1 4-ounce apple sliced 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 phytochemicals (compounds in plants that can benefit your health). Vitamin C is an important water-soluble vitamin that repairs cells (important for wound healing), slows down aging, and boosts immunity.

Additionally berries' rich color—red, blue, and black—comes from anthocyanins, a natural pigment. Research suggests that anthocyanins may help fend off certain chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Citrus fruits, such as tangerines, also contain vitamin C and potassium, which can reduce blood pressure. They are also a good source of fat-soluble vitamin A, an important vitamin for eye health.

Citrus fruits also contain phytonutrients. These can protect cells from damage, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you are on a potassium-restricted diet or take cholesterol-lowering medication, you may have to watch your intake of citrus fruits. Make sure you discuss intake with your physician before adding them to your meal plan. 

Recap

When choosing fruits, citrus fruits and berries in particular have nutrients that can benefit people with diabetes.

Summary

If you have diabetes, eating fruit can sometimes be a concern. That's because the carbohydrates in fruit can cause blood sugar levels to rise.

However, fruit is still an important part of a healthy diet when you have diabetes. Fruit provides fiber that prevents blood sugar spikes. It helps keep you full longer and pulls cholesterol away from the heart. That's especially important since diabetes can put you at risk for high cholesterol and heart disease.

Get the most out of your fruit choices by focusing on whole, fresh fruit rather than dried fruit or juices. Choose foods that are low on the GI index, and take note of any fruits that cause your blood sugar to spike. Keep an eye on portion sizes and monitor how many carbohydrates you're eating, including fruit.

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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