Eating with Diabetes: What About Fruit?

Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fruit should be part of any healthy diet. As a diabetes educator, some of the most frequent questions from my clients have to do with fruit. Can I still eat fruit? How much fruit should I eat? What are the best fruits for someone with diabetes?
Most people with diabetes are worried about eating fruit because they know that fruit contains sugar. And in the past, people with diabetes were told to avoid eating sugar. While it's true that fruit contains naturally-occurring sugars—and sometimes added ones, too (more on that below)—fruit also provides a host of other healthy nutrients that are beneficial for everyone, including people with diabetes. In addition, it's important to remember that people who have diabetes can eat anything, including fruit! Here's why.
All carbohydrate-containing foods—not just those with sugar—affect blood sugar levels. It is the amount of carbohydrate you eat (not the type) that has the biggest influence on blood sugar levels. Because of this, people with diabetes can treat all carbohydrate-containing foods (including fruit) the same when meal planning. Too much of any carbohydrate at a given meal or snack will probably raise your blood sugar higher than you would like. Therefore, a big part of diabetes meal planning is devoted to carbohydrate counting or “budgeting” carbohydrates in some way. You should work with your diabetes educator or a dietitian that specializes in diabetes in order to determine how much carbohydrate you need.
If you count carbohydrates to control your blood sugar, you simply include the carbohydrates in a serving of fruit into your carbohydrate budget for a meal or snack. For instance if you have a 45-gram (or 3-serving) carbohydrate budget for breakfast and you decide you want to have a banana with your oatmeal, adjust your carbohydrate servings accordingly. A 5-inch banana contains roughly 15 grams of carbohydrates, which leaves you with 30 grams left for the oatmeal. Learn more about diabetes meal planning here.
When it comes to selecting fruits, remember that portion size, calories and carbohydrates differ for all types of fruit, especially if the fruit has been altered from its whole, unprocessed state. Therefore, keep the following four guidelines in mind when selecting fruits for your diabetes meal planning:

  1. Choose fresh, whole fruits most of the time. While any type of fruit can be worked into a diabetes meal plan, it is generally recommended that fresh, whole fruit (including frozen) be chosen most of the time because it offers other nutritional benefits such as fiber, which may help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  2. Be cautious when choosing dried fruits and fruit juices. Juice and dried fruits can be worked into a diabetes meal plan, but the amount you'll get for the carbohydrates they contain is very small. Both options are very concentrated sources of sugar and carbohydrates, which reduces the serving size you can eat. Many are higher on the glycemix index, too (see point 4 below).
  3. Watch out for added sweeteners. Many seemingly healthy fruit-based foods are full of added sugars (think jams and jellies, fruit bars or fruit pies, fruit-flavored drinks). Also be sure to read labels. Canned, frozen, dried and other packaged fruits often come with added sugars, which not only affect your blood sugar levels but also reduce the serving size you are able to eat. If you must choose fruit canned in syrup (which is often cheaper than fruit canned in fruit juice), you can rinse the fruit under cold water to help reduce the added sugar you'll consume. Also avoid juice "drinks" (often containing sweeteners) in favor of 100% fruit juice to reduce added sugar while maximizing vitamin and mineral intake.
  4. Note how different fruits affect your blood sugar levels. While the glycemic index isn't a perfect scale for measuring how a food affects your blood sugar level, choosing fruits with lower glycemic indexes may provide an additional blood glucose control benefit. There can be a difference in how a food affects an individual's blood sugar level. If you notice certain fruits elevate your blood sugar more than others, you may want to reduce the portion size of that particular fruit or favor items that tend to have a lesser impact on your blood sugar levels. If you find that this type of "fine tweaking" would be beneficial to your blood sugar control, talk to your Certified Diabetes Educator and use the glycemic index information listed in the chart below when choosing fruits.
The following chart lists the various portion sizes for a single-carbohydrate serving (15 grams) of various fruits along with their glycemic index. Pay particular attention to how the portion size differs when you compare whole, unprocessed fruits with dried fruits, juices or sweetened fruits.
Fruit Serving Size Glycemic Index
Apple 1 small 36
Apple juice (100% juice) 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz) 41
Applesauce, unsweetened 1/2 cup 53
Banana 1 (5 inches long) 51
Cantaloupe 1 cup cubes 36
Canned fruit, in fruit juice 1/2 cup 45
Cherries 12 36
Cranberries, dried 2 tablespoons 62
Cranberry juice (100% juice) 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz) 52
Grapefruit 1/2 of a large 25
Grapes 17 small 46
Honeydew 1 cup cubed 36
Kiwi 1 56
Orange 1 small 43
Orange juice (100% juice) 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz) 50
Peach, fresh 1 medium 42
Pear 1/2 of a large 38
Pineapple, fresh 3/4 cup 66
Raisins 2 Tablespoons 64
Raspberries 1 cup 40
Spreadable fruit 1 Tablespoon 51
Strawberries 1 1/4 cup 36
Watermelon 1 1/4 cup cubed 76

For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople's nutrition expert, Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.