If you have diabetes, chances are someone has mentioned that you should avoid eating fruit. In truth, whole, fresh fruit is packed full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This makes fruits a nutrient-dense food group that can certainly be part of a healthy diabetes treatment plan.
People with diabetes should be cautious, though. Certain fruit choices may affect blood sugar levels more than others. This article will discuss how to make smart decisions about the fruits you eat.
How Fruit Impacts Blood Sugar
Fruits contain carbohydrates, which can increase your blood sugar. However, certain fruits can cause your blood sugar to spike more quickly than others, depending on their fiber and fructose content.
Fructose in Fruits
The sugar found in fruit is called fructose. It’s broken down, or metabolized, quickly by the liver. In the process, fructose can bypass an enzyme that signals when cells have had too much sugar.
This can raise blood sugar levels if you eat lots of fructose at once, such as when drinking beverages with high-fructose corn syrup. However, it’s less likely when you’re eating whole, fresh fruit. Studies have shown that eating fresh fruit is not associated with a significant negative impact on blood sugar control.
Fresh fruit is full of fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. These all work together to support healthy glucose (blood sugar) levels. One study found that people with diabetes who ate fresh fruit three days per week had a lower risk of vascular complications, including stroke.
Certain fruits may cause your blood sugar to rise at a quicker pace than others, depending on their fiber and fructose content. However, everyone responds to food differently, so it’s tricky to measure blood sugar responses. While one person may be able to eat bananas without any issue, another may find that bananas cause their blood sugar to jump.
Fiber in Fruits
The fiber found in fruit, both soluble and insoluble, can help prevent blood sugar spikes by slowing down digestion. It may also limit fat and cholesterol absorption and increase feelings of fullness, resulting in less food intake.
The fiber content may change depending on the state of the fruit itself. Fresh, whole fruit has the most fiber because the cell walls are intact. Cooking breaks down the fiber structures in the fruit. While this can make digestion easier‚ it 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. Limit those that need to be peeled, such as bananas and melons.
Benefits of Antioxidants
Fruits of darker hues—such as deep reds, purples, and blues—are typically rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are plant-based compounds that work to fight free radicals, chemicals that can damage cells. Antioxidants are thought to help the body repair from all types of stress.
These dark pigments come from a compound called anthocyanin, which research suggests may help fend off chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease. 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.
Research shows antioxidants in fruits can help prevent inflammation, a major issue in chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. According to one study review, eating more fruit and vegetables reduces inflammatory markers and improves your immune response to disease.
Fruits that are red, purple, or blue are usually high in antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent inflammation in the body that leads to chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes.
Types of Fruit to Limit
There are a few forms of fruit that should be consumed only in limited amounts if you have diabetes. Dried fruits, fruit juices, and fruits that are high in sugar and low in fiber should generally be limited or avoided.
Dried fruit, while delicious in trail mix and on salads, is a super-concentrated form of whole fruit that goes through a drying process. This results in a food that’s higher in carbohydrates per serving than fresh, whole fruit. Dried fruits may also contain added sugar and are lower in fiber if the peels have been removed.
Just one cup of raisins contains 127 grams of carbs and 104 grams of sugar. In contrast, 1 cup of fresh grapes contains 27 grams of carbs and 23 grams of sugar.
Even 100% fruit juices can cause blood sugar spikes. The body doesn’t have to work much to break down juice’s sugar, thanks to the removal of nearly all the fiber. Juice, therefore, is metabolized quickly and raises blood sugar within minutes.
Juice can also deliver lots of calories without making you feel full. This can work against weight loss efforts and can even promote weight gain.
If you drink fruit juice, try mixing it with water to reduce the amount you’re drinking. You could also try making your own juice from whole fruits and vegetables.
Another option is to swap fruit juice entirely for whole fruit, either fresh or frozen. Do this wherever you can to reap the big benefits of fiber and nutrients.
Researchers in one study found that drinking fruit juice was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Eating whole fruits such as blueberries, grapes, and apples was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measurement of how much certain foods will affect your blood sugar. The numbers can vary based on how fruit is prepared, but the index can be helpful when meal planning with diabetes.
The riper a fruit is, the higher its glycemic index. This means that ripe fruit will raise your blood sugar more than a food with a low glycemic index.
Though the glycemic index is not a perfect system, people with diabetes should reference it when selecting fruit to eat. The higher the GI index, the more likely your choice will interfere with your glycemic (blood sugar) control.
A glycemic index of 56 and above is considered high. Some examples of high-GI foods include:
A GI of 55 and below is considered low. Examples of low-GI foods include:
The glycemic index can give you an idea of how foods will affect your blood sugar. The higher the GI, the more it will likely raise your blood sugar.
Types of Fruit to Include
There are no “good” or “bad” fruits (or foods, for that matter). However, if you’re looking to get the most nutritional value, look for fruits that are high in fiber.
For example, you can eat 1 cup of sliced strawberries for 53 calories, 12.7 grams of carbs, 3.3 grams of fiber, and 8.1 grams of sugar. That’s similar to 1/2 medium banana, which is 56 calories, 14.4 grams carbs, 1.64 grams fiber, and 7.7 grams sugar.
Berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, may provide particularly valuable health benefits for people with diabetes and other metabolic conditions.
Berries are rich in vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Studies have shown that a diet rich in berries is associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Berries may help with both glucose metabolism and body weight regulation.
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, decrease cell damage, and protect against cardiovascular disease as well.
Keep an Eye on Portions
When choosing fruit, try to stick with one fruit serving per meal or snack.
Keep in mind that one serving of fruit equals about 15 grams of carbohydrates. The amount 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) of apple, orange, peach, pear, or plum
- 1/2 medium banana
- 2 small or 1 large tangerine (4 ounces total)
- 2 small kiwi (2 ounces each)
- 4 small apricots (1 ounce each)
- 1 cup of melon (cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew)
- 17 small 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 controlling your blood sugar if you avoid dried fruit and juice. Also, it helps to pair your fruit with a protein or fat. For example, top cottage cheese with pineapple, add berries to a protein smoothie, or dip apple slices into nut butter or tahini.
When choosing fruit, look for a wide variety to get the most nutritional benefits. Berries and citrus fruits are especially good choices for reducing inflammation and preventing chronic disease. Watch portion sizes to make sure you’re not eating too many carbohydrates.
If you’re following a diabetes-friendly meal plan, there’s no real reason to avoid fruit altogether. Fresh fruit can be a powerhouse of nutrition, as long as you keep portions in check. Fresh fruit contains fiber, minerals, and antioxidants that are an important part of a healthy diet.
Choosing whole, fresh fruits, rather than dried fruit or juices, can provide fiber and nutrients and help limit blood sugar increases. You may want to test your blood sugar before and after eating fruit (and consult with a dietitian or nutritionist) to help determine which ones are best for you.