The Worst Fruits for People With Diabetes (and the Best)
There is a misconception that people with diabetes cannot eat fruit. Yes, fruit does contain natural sugars. But just because you have diabetes does not mean you need to avoid fruit. It just means you need to make better choices on what fruit (and how much) you eat.
Fruit, like many other foods, can raise blood sugar. Frequent blood sugar spikes can elevate your A1C, a measure of how high your blood sugar is on average. The higher the A1C level, the less well your body is managing the condition.
But fruit doesn't have to be off the table if you're a person with diabetes. Indeed, fruit can be a healthy part of a balanced diet. It's just important for people with diabetes to pick the best fruits for them, and to eat some others less frequently.
We spoke to two dietitians to get the scoop on the best and worst fruits for people with diabetes.
Can People With Diabetes Eat Fruit?
"All fruits have healthy qualities, even if you have diabetes," says Zoe Fienman, RD LDN CDE, a registered dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. "They are filled with fiber, vitamins, and minerals your body needs."
What identifies a fruit as better or worse is really the amount of sugar that fruit has and where it lies on the glycemic index. An important tool for people with diabetes, the glycemic index refers to the rate at which food is digested and absorbed into the blood stream.
"If it's higher, that means that food breaks down more quickly which can cause a spike in blood sugar more rapidly," Fienman says. That being said, like with all foods, people may digest or react to something differently. One person with diabetes may be able to tolerate a banana without a major spike in sugars, and others may have to avoid them altogether.
Of course, always consult your doctor or a registered dietitian when figuring out a diet that is right for managing diabetes and your blood sugar.
The Worst Fruits for People With Diabetes
Serving size is important for all fruits, especially those high on the glycemic index. Fienman recommends thinking about the serving size of a whole fruit (like an apple) to the size of a tennis ball and cut up fruit to a ½ cup. Even in these small servings, some fruits have more natural sugars and may spike blood sugar longer.
These fruits contain a high amount of natural sugars:
Skip the canned fruit.
Canned fruits and those cute little fruit cocktail cups may be convenient and inexpensive, but they aren't so good for you.
"Those canned in heavy or light syrup are not an ideal choice for persons with diabetes," says Kim Rose, RD and a certified diabetes care and education specialist. "This is because syrup-laden fruits contain added sugar that may be too much for the body to handle."
Be careful with dried fruits.
Drying fruit concentrates all of the yummy fruit flavor into one smaller bite, but it also concentrates many of the sugars. Even a small amount of dried fruit can put you over the edge.
Be careful to read dried fruit labels; many of them pack on the added sugars. Some are even sweetened, making the sugar problem worse. If you must have dried fruit, keep the quantities small. Rose recommends dates, figs, and prunes because they are lower on the glycemic index.
Juices and smoothies can be tricky.
Many store-bought juices — orange, apple, even green juices — sneakily add extra sugars, so you'll want to avoid those, too. Even juices or smoothies you make at home can require a lot of fruit for one glass (a small juice can often have two to three oranges), so it isn't always the best option for people with diabetes. If you want to have a smoothie, try adding in mostly vegetables and something like a half of a banana for sweetness.
The Best Fruits for People With Diabetes
Two to three servings of fruit a day is recommended, and that can is true for people with diabetes, too.
"If you combine fruit with a fat or protein, it will help you feel fuller and help with that portion control," Fienman says.
Here are some beneficial fruits that are not only lower on the glycemic index, but also pack a punch with other vitamins and minerals:
- berries — Both citrus and berries are recommended as superfoods by the American Diabetes Association.
- apples — High fiber fruits like apples and pears help to slow a spike in blood sugar, Rose says.