Best Fruits to Eat if You Have Diabetes

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 ones like grapes or watermelon.

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

This article explains the ways that fruit can impact diabetes, both positively and negatively, as well as which fruits to favor or limit—and why.

Pros and Cons of Eating Fruit if You Have Diabetes

Fruits have many health benefits, some of which are helpful to people living with diabetes. But, there are also potential risks to eating fruit, particularly in your blood sugar is not controlled.

Pros

There are many “pros” to eating fruit if you have diabetes. Some are nutritionally dense and others contain compounds that help reduce inflammation and damage caused by free radicals.

Among the benefits of adding fruit to a diabetes-friendly diet are:

  • FiberDietary fiber is the portion of plant-based foods that cannot be completely broken down by digestive enzymes. Fiber is beneficial in helping prevent blood sugar spikes, reducing blood cholesterol, and increasing satiety (the feeling of fullness) to help control appetite.1
  • Vitamins and minerals: Potassium in fruits like bananas, citrus, melons, and, apricots can help reduce blood pressure.2 Vitamin C and folic acid in citrus fruits help promote wound healing increase brain function and boost immunity.3
  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants such as anthocyanins found in berries, cherries, and red grapes can help thwart cell damage and may potentially slow the progression of certain chronic diseases, including heart disease.4 Other antioxidant-rich foods include peaches, figs, pears, guava, oranges, apricots, mango, cantaloupe, and papaya,5

When choosing fruit, you’ll want to think about portion size, convenience, cost, and flavor. But it is also important to consider the health benefits as well.

Cons

On the flip side, there are potential risks to eating fruit if you have diabetes. In most cases, the benefits will outweigh the risks as long as you maintain portion control and avoid overconsumption.

Even so, be aware of the following “cons” if you have diabetes:

  • Fructose: Fruit contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates—whether from bread, milk, yogurt, potatoes, or fruit—get broken down during digestion and turn into sugar (glucose). The main type of carbohydrate in fruit is a natural sugar called fructose. Eating too much fructose can have the same effect as eating too much table sugar.6
  • Excess potassium: If you are on a potassium-restricted diet for diabetic nephropathy (diabetes-related kidney disease), you may need to restrict your intake of citrus fruits, bananas, apricots, and certain melons. These fruits are loaded with potassium. 7
  • Interactions: Citrus fruit like grapefruitand Seville oranges can interact with drugs like statins, steroids, and certain blood pressure medications, making them less effective.8

For these reasons, people with diabetes need to monitor how many carbs they eat and advise their healthcare provider about any drugs they take to avoid interactions.

Choose Fruit With a Lower Glycemic Index

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that you choose fruits that have a low glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index is used as a reference to measure how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises your blood glucose. A high GI food will raise blood glucose more than a medium or low GI food.9

Here is how certain fruits compare on the glycemic index:10

  • Low GI (55 or less): Apples, pears, mango, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, grapefruit, pears, nectarines, and oranges
  • Moderate GI (55 to 69): Cherries, mango, papaya, and grapes
  • High GI (70 or greater): Watermelon and pineapple

Most fruits have a low to moderate GI, except pineapple and watermelon.9 That doesn’t mean you can never eat pineapple or watermelon unless it causes a blood sugar spike.

It is also important to note that fructose levels tend to increase the more that fruit ripens, amplifying its impact on your blood sugar.10

Even so, some nutritious foods have a higher GI than foods with little nutritional value. As such, don’t use a food’s GI as the sole determining factor as to which you should eat. A healthy diet should always be balanced to meet your daily nutritional needs.

Opt for the Whole Fruit

If you have diabetes and enjoy fruit, it is always best to opt for whole fruit rather than dried fruits or juices. This includes fresh, frozen, or canned whole fruit (as long as no sugars are added).

Dried fruits may be a problem because they are higher in carbohydrates per serving than natural whole fruit. They may also contain added sugar (particularly with products like dried cranberries or banana chips), Dried fruits can also be lower in fiber if the skin has been removed before dehydration.

Fruit juices pose similar risks even when there is no added sugar. That’s because the flesh of the fruit, which contains fiber, is discarded during the juicing process. Moreover, with juices, you may be drinking more fruit than you would eat. Pasteurized juice or juices made from concentrates often have very high fructose levels.

Here are two examples of what one portion of dried fruit or juice can contribute to your blood sugar:

  • One-quarter cup of raisins delivers 120 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, and 24 grams of sugar.11
  • One cup of unsweetened 100% fruit juice contains 130 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates, and 28 grams of sugar.12

Keep Portions in Check

The ADA recommends that about 45% of your daily calorie intake come from carbohydrates.13 If you are following a 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.14

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 of common whole fruits:15

  • 1 small apple, orange, peach, pear, or plum
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 2 small tangerines or 1 large tangerine
  • 2 kiwi
  • 4 apricots
  • 1 cup of melon (cantaloupe, honeydew)
  • 15 grapes or cherries
  • 1/3 of a medium mango
  • 1-1/4 cup of strawberries
  • 3/4 cup of blueberries
  • 1 cup of raspberries and blackberries

Pair Fruit With Protein

Pairing fruit with protein can help slow down any rise in blood sugar. You can do this by including fruit in your meal allotment for carbohydrates or by adding protein to your fruit snack.16

Here are some examples

  • Pair 4 ounces of sliced apples with 1 tablespoon of almond butter.
  • Pair 1 cup of raspberries with 1 cup of non-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Part one small peach with 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese.

Summary

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

Even so, fruit is an important part of a healthy diet when you have diabetes, providing fiber that can limit blood sugar spikes. It can also help lower cholesterol, which is especially important given that diabetes can put you at an increased risk for heart disease.

If you have diabetes, focus on eating whole fruit rather than dried fruit or juices. You should also favor fruits that are low on the GI index, keeping an eye on portion sizes and the carb count.

A Word From Verywell

Managing your diet can be difficult if you have diabetes, especially when first starting out. To ease into healthy eating habits, meet with a dietitian or nutritionist who can provide you a guideline as to how to build a healthy diabetes-friendly meal plan that includes the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

You can also download apps that can help measure and record the GI and carb count of foods you are planning to eat. With persistence and practice, you will be able to build a meal plan intuitively, rendering nutrition without raising your blood sugar.

Sources:

  1. Post RE, Mainous AG, King DE, Simpson KT. Dietary fiber for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysisJ Am Board Fam Med. Jan-Feb 2012;25(1):16-23. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2012.01.110148
  2. Weaver CM. Potassium and healthAdv Nutr. 2013 May 1;4(3):368S-77S. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003533
  3. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin C.
  4. Wallace TC. Anthocyanins in cardiovascular diseaseAdv Nutr. 2011;2(1):1‐7. doi:10.3945/an.110.000042
  5. Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health benefits of fruits and vegetablesAdv Nutr. 2012 Jul;3(4):506–16. doi:10.3945/an.112.002154
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and carbs.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and kidney disease: what to eat.
  8. Bailey D, Dresser G, Arnold J. Grapefruit-medication interactions: ofrbidden fruit or avoidable consequences? Can Med Assoc J. 2012;185(4):309-16. doi:10.1503/cmaj.12095
  9. MedlinePlus. Glycemic index and diabetes.
  10. American Diabetes Association. Fruit.
  11. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Raisins.
  12. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 100% fruit juice.
  13. Evert A, Dennison M, Gardener CD, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: a consensus reportDiabetes Care. May 2019;42(5):731-54; doi:10.2337/dci19-0014
  14. Cleveland Clinic. Can you eat fruit if you have diabetes?
  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carb counts.
  16. Weill Cornell Medicine. Food order has significant impact on glucose and insulin levels.
  17. New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Low glycemic meal planning.
  18. Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes: an overview.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at www.verywellhealth.com by Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN where all credits are due. Medically reviewed by Ana Maria Kausel, MD. Fact checked by Lisa Sullivan, MS.

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