Best Fruit Choices if You Have Diabetes
Amy Hendel | March 13, 2018 March 20, 2018
Reviewed by Carmen Roberts, MS, RD, LDN on March 20, 2018
A cornerstone of managing diabetes is counting carbs. There seems to be one myth that needs busting – fruit is not off limits and though some fruits have more carbs (sugar) than others, sugar levels in fruits do not make them forbidden. Fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients. Current food trends recommend consuming more whole foods like fruit, instead of (low sugar) processed foods. It is good to know which fruits have high, moderate, or lower levels of carbs.
Fruit comes in a variety of forms
Choose from fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and freeze-dried fruit options, but there are some rules to follow. It’s best to choose fresh, frozen or canned fruit without added sugars, juice or syrups. In most cases, one small pieces of fruit, one cup of fresh fruit, or a half-cup of frozen or canned fruit is equal to one serving (or about 15 grams of carbs). One-third to a half-cup of fruit juice equals about 15 grams of carbs, while 2 tablespoons of dried fruit (raisins, cherries) equals about 15 grams of cabrs.
Using the glycemic index
Though most people with diabetes count carbs, some people also like to use the glycemic index (GI) as a secondary guide. Glycemic index ranks the impact of a food (compared to a reference food) on blood glucose levels. Most fruits rank moderate or low on the glycemic index because of the type of sugar — fructose – and fiber content. Melons, pineapple, dates, raisins and cranberries have a moderate GI. The riper, cooked or more processed the fruit, the higher the GI. GI range is 1 to 100.
Glycemic index ranges for some fruits
Fruits that fall in the low GI range of 0 – 55 include: cherries, grapefruits and prunes. Medium range GI fruits include mangoes, bananas, kiwis and pineapples. A very ripe banana would likely fall into the higher GI range. Watermelon has a higher GI, but its glycemic load – which measures direct blood sugar impact — is actually on the lower end. You’d need to eat a large portion of watermelon to spike blood sugar. In general, counting carbs is much more helpful for someone with diabetes.
Fruits are bursting with fiber
The fiber in fruits helps to regulate or modulate blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps to promote feelings of fullness, helping to curb unhealthy cravings and overeating. Berries are high in fiber and packed with antioxidants and vitamins, plus they are low GI foods. A three quarters cup of blueberries has about 62 calories and 16 grams of carbs. Berries are great on their own, as a topping on plain Greek yogurt, and in a salad. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries are other good choices.
Cherries fight inflammation too
Cherries are lower GI and have about 78 calories per cup and 19 grams of carbs. Packed with antioxidants, they support heart health. People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing heart disease and having a silent heart attack. Diabetes is also associated with general inflammation in the body and cherries are considered anti-inflammatory. Though cherry juice and dried cherries are popular choices, they tend to be higher in sugar per serving so mostly stick with fresh or frozen cherries.
Summer peaches and apricots are winners
Peaches are high in vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium. Apricots are high in vitamin A and have about 17 calories and 4 grams of carbs per serving. You can easily find frozen peaches in your local supermarket during the off season. Peaches are great on cereal, in a smoothie or on a salad. An apricot and small handful of nuts is a perfect snack. A medium peach clocks in at 14 grams of carbs and 58 calories. An apricot has only 3.9 grams of carbs, so three apricots is a typical serving.
A small apple has about 77 calories and 21 grams of carbs. The apple’s skin is the most nutritious part – full of antioxidants. Apples are full of fiber and a good source of vitamin C. If you like applesauce, measure portion size and beware added sugar. There are at least 2500 varieties of apples grown in the U.S, and 7500 varieties grown worldwide. In the U.S., 100 varieties are grown commercially. Top a baked apple with cinnamon (may lower blood sugar) and chopped nuts for a perfect snack.
Go orange and green
Just one orange has a day’s worth of vitamin C. Folate and potassium-rich, with about 15 grams of carbs and 62 calories per serving, it’s a perfect accompaniment to a protein-rich breakfast. Peel a kiwi and you’ll find a bright green fruit rich in vitamin C, fiber and potassium. One large kiwi has about 56 calories and 13 grams of carbs. Kiwis are usually available year round and hold up well in the fridge. Slice kiwi over fat free, low sodium cottage cheese or use in traditional salads.
Pears and plums
Pears are fiber-rich and they’re also a good source of vitamin K. With a GI of 38 and a glycemic load of 4, make sure to eat the skin too. A small pear has about 85 calories and 18 grams of carbs. Plums have a GI score of 40 and a glycemic load of 2 making them a stellar choice for someone with diabetes. Remember that prunes (dried plums) have a higher glycemic load, 9, but help to support bowel regularity. High blood sugar levels can cause diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to constipation, diarrhea, and incontinence over time.
Avocados and tomatoes are fruits too
Avocados are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Higher in calories, a half cup of avocado has about 161 calories, 9 carbs and about 6 grams of fiber (two net carbs). Mashed avocado can replace high saturated fat mayo in a sandwich. One medium whole tomato has about 4.8 grams of carbs. Just remember that many tomato sauces tend to have added sugar. Lycopene in tomatoes may support heart health. Consuming tomatoes with a bit of fat allows better absorption of the lycopene.
A few carb tips
Check with a diabetes educator or dietician to identify daily carb goals. Carbs are not “just sugar” – they also include starches and fiber. Be selective when it comes to carbs. Choose whole foods (fruits, vegetables, fat free dairy products, beans, legumes, whole grains). Eat protein or healthy fats with carb-rich foods to help further modulate blood sugar elevations. Include fruits in your diet because they offer nutrients and fiber – eat a variety to get a broad range of phytonutrients.