When it comes to managing blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, many factors come into play.
Diet, activity level, illness, and stress can all contribute to fluctuating blood sugars. People with diabetes often have many questions about which foods they should eat or stay away from to keep themselves healthy.
Fruit is part of a nutrient group called carbohydrates. Carbohydrates turn into blood sugar after they’re eaten, so they have the most impact on blood sugar readings compared to the other two primary nutrients; protein and fat.
While fruit is a very healthy food, it does contain natural sugars. People with diabetes can absolutely enjoy fruit as a part of a healthy diabetic diet.
It can be helpful for people with diabetes to know which fruits are higher and lower in sugar, as well as other things to take into consideration when choosing to consume fruits for diabetes.
Fruit for diabetes – is it actually safe to eat?
The American Diabetes Association encourages people with prediabetes and diabetes to eat a diet high in fiber, including fruit. While fruit does contain natural sugar, it’s also high in dietary fiber.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that isn’t absorbed by the body, which means it doesn’t raise blood sugar. Fiber is not only helpful for managing blood sugars, but it can also help reduce the risk of heart disease (cardiovascular disease), in which people with diabetes are more at risk of developing.
People with diabetes are often told they can’t eat fruit because it will raise their blood sugar. This is not only untrue but potentially harmful advice. Fruit contains an abundance of nutrients, such as folate, vitamin C, and potassium, to name a few.
Having diabetes increases the risk of developing cancers of the liver, pancreas, endometrium, colon, breast, and bladder.
Compounds in food called antioxidants can help reduce the risk of developing certain cancers. Fruit is a great source of antioxidants, which is why it’s considered an important part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes.
When deciding which kind of fruit to include in a diet for diabetes, the most important thing to consider is the overall big picture of the person’s food choices.
For example, eating fruit after eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal of pasta may not be the best choice for promoting healthy blood sugars. On the other hand, enjoying fruit as a snack between meals or having it after a low-carbohydrate meal may affect blood sugars more positively.
Which fruits are best for diabetes?
First off, it’s important to note that people with diabetes can enjoy every fruit. However, people often notice particular fruits cause blood sugar spikes more than others.
For day-to-day eating, it’s best to include foods that don’t raise blood sugars too high (depending on the patient’s individual blood sugar goals).
Fruit is rich in fructose, which is called fruit sugar. Certain fruits are higher in natural sugar than others, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the fruit relatively lower in sugar.
Here is a list of fruits with fewer than 10 grams of sugar per 100-gram portion:
- Avocado – 0.7 grams
- Blackberries – 4.9 grams
- Blueberries – 4.4 grams
- Cherries – 8 grams
- Coconut – 6 grams
- Grapefruit – 7 grams
- Honeydew melon – 8 grams
- Lemon – 2.5 grams
- Lime – 1.7 grams
- Orange – 9 grams
- Peach – 8 grams
- Strawberries – 4.9 grams
- Watermelon – 6 grams
The fruits mentioned above may help someone with diabetes better manage their blood sugar. It doesn’t mean these are the only kinds of fruit someone with diabetes should be allowed to eat.
Which fruits should be avoided in diabetes?
As mentioned before, a person with diabetes doesn’t necessarily need to avoid fruit higher in sugar. Instead, they should be aware that the sugar content is more concentrated and account for that in their meal and snack choices.
- Apple – 10 grams
- Banana – 12 grams
- Fig – 16 grams
- Grapes – 16 grams
- Mango – 14 grams
- Pears – 10 grams
- Pineapple – 10 grams
- Plum – 10 grams
- Pomegranate – 14 grams
Which factors should you consider when consuming fruit?
Fresh fruit is preferred over most other forms because it’s the lowest in sugar. There are no added sugars in fresh fruit.
Added sugars are sugars not found naturally in food, and tend to raise blood sugars if consumed in large quantities. Examples of added sugars include the sugar in soda, cookies, sweetened cereals, and most fruit snacks.
Fruit comes in many forms, including frozen, canned, juice, dried and freeze-dried.
Dried fruit and juice
Dried fruit is more concentrated in sugar than fresh fruit. When fruit is dried, the sugar content is just as high as fresh, but the portion size is smaller due to shrinkage from water loss.
This means it can be easier to eat more dried fruit (and consume more sugar) than when choosing fresh. For example, there are 16 grams of sugar in 100 grams of grapes, but that same portion of raisins contains 60 grams of sugar!
A benefit of dried fruit is that it still contains fiber, which doesn’t raise blood sugar. Eating foods rich in fiber is a healthy habit for everyone, not just those with diabetes.
Fruit juice is primarily made up of sugar; there is no fiber in juice because there aren’t any solids leftover from the original fruit. Fruit juice raises blood sugar quickly because it requires very little digestion. In fact, drinking fruit juice is a popular treatment for low blood sugar because of how much juice can raise blood glucose levels.
When drinking juice, it’s best to choose kinds made with 100% fruit juice. Some juice blends or juice cocktails have added sugar, making them even higher in sugar than 100% fruit juice.
Also, certain juices tend to be higher in sugar than others. For example, one cup of grape juice contains 36 grams of sugar, whereas one cup of orange juice contains 21 grams of sugar.
Canned and frozen fruit
Fruit is often canned in syrup or juice, which can contribute to the sugar content.
Choosing fruit canned in water or 100% juice is preferable, as is draining the fruit from the liquid. If choosing fruit canned in syrup, rinsing it with water and draining, it can help reduce the added sugar content.
Frozen fruit is similar to fresh in regards to sugar content. Frozen fruit can be a great choice because it minimizes the need to buy fresh fruit when it’s not in season, and can also reduce food waste.
With any food or drink, the portion size plays a significant role in how it affects blood sugar. Having a small apple and drinking a large glass of apple juice will likely have very different impacts on a person’s blood glucose readings.
Paying attention to the nutrition facts label is an important tool for people with diabetes when deciding what foods and drinks to include in their diet. If there are 20 grams of sugar per ½ cup serving of dried fruit, eating 1 cup of dried fruit will provide 40 grams of sugar altogether.
While fruit is very healthy and nutritious, eating large amounts of it in one sitting can still pose a problem for blood sugar. Being mindful of portion size can help someone with diabetes enjoy fruit without compromising their blood sugar targets.
Low glycemic index
Sugar isn’t the only factor impacting blood glucose levels. The glycemic index (GI) of a food or drink is a number measuring how quickly the carbohydrates convert into blood sugar.
The lower the glycemic index, the less impact that food has on blood glucose. The scale for ranking foods as low-, medium- or high-glycemic-index is:
- 55 or less: low
- 56-69: medium
- 70 and higher: high
The glycemic index relates to a single, plain food item, and is calculated based on eating a specific portion of that food.
Glycemic load is the term for how much a food is likely to impact blood sugar based on how much will be eaten, not just the sample serving size used to determine the glycemic index. This can be effective for practicing glycemic control.
Other factors outside the glycemic index/load impact how a food will affect blood sugar. A meal rich in fat will delay the conversion to blood sugar, for example. This is one of the limitations of the usefulness of the glycemic index/load.
Carbohydrates are foods that turn into sugar when we eat them. Fruit, vegetables, milk, and grains all contain carbohydrates. Added sugar is also a carbohydrate. People with diabetes tend to focus the most on carbohydrates because of their impact on blood glucose levels.
Carbohydrates include starch, sugar, and fiber. Starch and sugar raise blood sugar, whereas fiber doesn’t. Starch comes from the structure of plant foods; fruit contains starch, sugar, and fiber.
Vegetables also contain starch; non-starchy vegetables such as brocc0li, spinach, and cauliflower don’t raise blood sugar much, whereas starchy vegetables like potatoes do.
The term “net carbs” refers to the carbohydrate content after accounting for dietary fiber. The net carb total is the amount that will actually impact blood sugar.
For example, a medium apple has 25 grams of total carbohydrate, with around 4.5 grams of that total coming from fiber. The net carb total is the total carbs (25 grams of carbohydrates) minus the fiber (4.5 grams)= 20.5 grams net carbs.
The higher the fiber content, the lower the net carb total will be. Focusing on high-fiber/low-net carb foods can help promote healthy blood sugars, along with other lifestyle habits.
Fruit contains carbohydrates, primarily in the form of sugar. Sugar raises blood sugar levels, which is why it’s the main focus of people with diabetes.
Fresh fruit is very nutritious and a good source of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. People with diabetes can enjoy eating fruit while still managing their blood sugars.
Choosing lower-sugar fruit and being mindful of higher-sugar fruit, along with portion sizes, are useful tools for diabetic patients.
Dried fruit and fruit juices are higher in sugar than fresh (or frozen) fruit and tend to raise blood sugar more easily.
Being aware of the sugar content of these different forms of fruit can help those with diabetes make informed food choices in order to promote healthy blood sugar levels.