Forbidden fruit? Not if you make the right choices. These favorites are low-carb, low on the glycemic index, and good for your diabetes diet plan.
When you’re in search of a diabetes-friendly treat that won’t knock your blood sugar out of healthy range, look no farther than the produce drawer of your refrigerator or the fruit bowl on your kitchen table.
Believe it or not, the notion that fruit is not safe when you need to watch your A1C is a popular diabetes myth that has been debunked again and again. A study published in PLoS One in April 2017 even found that high amounts of fresh fruit were associated with a lower diabetes risk, as well as fewer complications for people who already had diabetes. Meanwhile, people who eat a diet rich in whole fruits may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the first place, according to a study in the October 2021 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) notes that many types of fruit are loaded with vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber — a powerful nutrient that can regulate blood sugar levels and decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Fiber — which can also be found in some of the best vegetables for diabetes and in whole grains — can further benefit your health by promoting feelings of fullness and curbing cravings and overeating, advises the Mayo Clinic. Healthy weight maintenance supports insulin sensitivity and helps with diabetes management, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So, how do you pick the best fruits for diabetes? Some forms of fruit, like juice, can be bad for diabetes. Past research, for example, showed that while whole fruits were associated with a lower risk of diabetes, fruit juice consumption was actually associated with a higher risk.
Whole fruits like berries, citrus, apricots, and yes, even apples — can be a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth, notes the ADA, and score important vitamins and minerals.
But as with any food in your diabetes diet, you have to be smart about counting carbohydrates and tracking what you eat. Portion size is key: According to the Mayo Clinic, one serving of fruit shouldn’t have more than 15 grams (g) of carbohydrates.
Consume fruit in its whole, natural form, and avoid fruit in syrups or any processed fruits with added sugar, which have the tendency to spike your blood sugar, per the Cleveland Clinic. Stick to the produce aisle and the freezer section of your grocery store. If you’re using the glycemic index (GI) or glycemic load to make dietary decisions, most whole fruits are a good choice because they tend to lie low on these rankings, the ADA also notes. According to Harvard Health Publishing, glycemic index is a scale used to determine how quickly a food is expected to raise your blood sugar. Meanwhile, according to the University of Sydney, glycemic load takes both glycemic index and carbohydrates per serving into account, offering a more precise idea of how a specific portion size might affect blood sugar. In the case of fruit, glycemic load can be helpful because larger portions can indeed spike blood sugar.
Armed with this knowledge, you can eat fresh, whole fruit, and keep your blood sugar within a healthy range, thereby lowering your risk of diabetes complications such neuropathy or nerve damage, kidney disease, eyesight issues like glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy, and life-threatening illnesses like heart disease and stroke, per the CDC.
Next time you have a hankering for something sweet, consider reaching for one of the following naturally sweet and juicy treats, courtesy of Mother Nature — slice some up at home and add to your breakfast bowl, or keep it simple and throw a piece in your bag to munch on when you’re on the go.
Berries Are a Refreshing Treat With Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Whether you love blueberries, strawberries, or any other berry, experts have given you the all-clear to indulge. According to the ADA, they’re a diabetes superfood because they’re packed with antioxidants and fiber. One cup of fresh blueberries has 84 calories and 21 grams (g) of carbohydrates, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you can resist the urge to just pop them into your mouth, try berries in a parfait, alternating layers of fruit with plain nonfat yogurt — it makes a great dessert or breakfast for diabetes.
Tart Cherries Tackle Inflammation
One cup of tart cherries with pits has 52 calories and 12.6 g of carbs, per the USDA. And these fruits may be especially good against inflammation, thanks to their antioxidants, which were shown to fight heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, in review from the March 2018 Nutrients. Tart cherries can be purchased fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. But since many canned fruits contain added sugar, which can spike your blood sugar, be sure to check the labels, notes Cleveland Clinic. Dried cherries without added sugar are a healthy option, per the ADA, but don’t eat them until you’re full — you’ll find dried fruit is less filling than whole fruit but denser in calories and carbs, so opt for a small portion size (think 2 tablespoons).
Sweet, Juicy Peaches Pack Electrolyte-Boosting Potassium
Fresh, fragrant peaches are a warm-weather treat you can include in your diabetes-friendly diet. One medium peach contains 59 calories and 14 g of carbohydrates, according to the USDA. It also has 10 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, which makes it a good source of that nutrient, and it’s also a source of potassium, with 285 mg.
Vitamin C does everything from helping your body form blood vessels and cartilage to aiding your body’s healing process, notes the Mayo Clinic. Potassium, on the other hand, acts as an electrolyte, helping normalize the fluid levels in our cells, per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Peaches are yummy on their own, or you might consider tossing them into some unsweetened iced tea. When you want an easy diabetes-friendly snack, whip up a quick smoothie with peach slices pureed with low-fat buttermilk, crushed ice, and a touch of cinnamon or ginger.
Apricots Are Scrumptious, Fiber-Rich Little Bites
Apricots are a sweet summer staple and a wonderful addition to your diabetes meal plan. One apricot has just 17 calories and 4 g of carbohydrates, per the USDA. Four of the small fresh fruits provide 134 micrograms (mcg) of your daily vitamin A requirement, constituting an excellent source of that nutrient. Vitamin A is important for your vision and immune system, among a number of other nutritional roles, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
These fruity jewels are also a good source of fiber, with 3 g per that same group of four. Try mixing some diced fresh apricots into hot or cold cereal, or toss some in a salad.
Apples Offer a Quick, Fibrous, Vitamin C–Filled Snack
An apple a day really might keep the doctor away. Toss one in your purse or tote bag if you’re on the go; a medium-size apple is a great fruit choice, with 95 calories and 25 g of carbs, notes the USDA. If you’re trying to stay under 15 g of carbohydrates per serving, enjoy half.
Apples are loaded with fiber (about 4 g per medium fruit, making them a good source) and have some vitamin C, with one midsize apple providing 8.37 mg. Don’t peel your apples, though — the skins are nutritious, with much of the fiber and heart-protective antioxidants coming from that part of the produce, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Oranges Are a Juicy, Refreshing Source of Vitamin C
Eat one medium orange and you’ll get nearly all the vitamin C you need in a day (63 mg, making it an excellent source). This mouthwatering choice comes in at 16 g of carbohydrates and 65 calories, per the USDA. One medium orange also contains folate (24 mcg), which helps red blood cells form, notes the Mayo Clinic, and potassium (238 mg), which may normalize blood pressure, per the American Heart Association. And while you’re enjoying this juicy treat, don’t forget other citrus fruits, like grapefruit, which are also great choices for people with diabetes.
Choose Pears for Easy Snacking, Plus Ample Fiber
Because pears are an excellent source of fiber — one medium pear has nearly 5.5 g, per the USDA — they make a wise addition to your diabetes meal plan. Plus, unlike most fruit, they actually improve in texture and flavor after they’re picked. Store your pears at room temperature until they’re ripe and perfect for eating (they can then be stowed in the refrigerator), recommends USA Pears. Here’s a tasty idea: Slice up a pear and toss it into your next spinach salad.
Zesty Green Kiwis Bring Potassium, Fiber, and Vitamin C
As you probably know, a kiwi’s fuzzy brown peel hides a zesty bright green fruit. According to the USDA, one delicious, powerhouse kiwi is an excellent source of vitamin C and gives you a little potassium and fiber to boot. One kiwi also has about 48 calories and 11 g of carbohydrates, so it’s a smart addition to your diabetes-friendly diet. Kiwis are available year-round and will last in the refrigerator for up to seven days, according to Zespri Kiwifruit.