The Best Fruits to Eat If You Have Diabetes
Good news for fruit lovers everywhere: Eating fresh fruit is associated with a lower risk of diabetes and a lower risk of complications if you already have the condition, according to a 2017 study published in PLOS Medicine.
Related: Can People with Diabetes Eat Fruits?
According to this study, if you've been steering clear of fruit because of the sugar content, there's no reason to do so. Over a seven-year time period, researchers analyzed the diet and health outcomes of more than 500,000 Chinese adults. The researchers found that higher fruit consumption was not associated with higher blood sugar, even for people with diabetes. And adults who consumed fruit more frequently had a lower risk of developing diabetes.
A 2021 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism echoes the 2017 findings. Considering 7675 Australian men and women and their intakes of whole fruits, researchers found that compared to those with the lowest fruit intakes, people with moderate fruit consumption had a 36% lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes over a five-year period. These researchers did not, however, find the same protective features regarding diabetes prevention in fruit juice.
We asked several registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators to clarify what fruits are best for blood sugar, what an appropriate serving size of fruit is and how many carbohydrates you should get from fruit each day.
To start, it's important to note that "diabetes care is individualized," says Staci Freeworth, Ed.D., RD, CDCES, professor of nutrition at Bowling Green State University. This is why it is recommended that people with diabetes see a certified diabetes educator (CDE). These specialists can break down how many carbohydrates you should be eating each day based on your individual needs and health history.
Best Fruits to Eat
Recipe to Try: Purple Fruit Salad
Whether you have diabetes or not, the consensus from dietitians is the same regarding which fruits are best to eat.
"The best fruits for everyone to eat are the ones that create the least influence on blood sugar, often termed 'low glycemic load,' even if you don't have diabetes," says Daphne Olivier, RD, CDE, founder of The Unconventional Dietitian. "These include fruits with rich, deep colors such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, dark cherries and kiwi. The rich color is a result of antioxidants—which we know help to neutralize free radicals—but there are also other benefits to antioxidants that we cannot explain."
Amber Gourley, M.S., RD, founder of the Disobedient Dietitian agrees. "As a general rule, I tell my clients to go for darker-colored fruits. Studies show that Americans don't get enough dark purple and red fruits, and these fruits contain some of the best sources of anti-inflammatory antioxidants."
Eat More of These Fruits:
- Dark cherries
Fruits You Might Want to Limit
Recipe to Try: Pineapple & Avocado Salad
Newsflash: There is no "worst" fruit. All fruit delivers fiber and nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, bananas, pineapples and mangoes get a bad rap for their higher sugar content compared to berries.
Don't avoid them altogether, though. Instead, the focus should be on decreasing how quickly your blood sugar rises.
For example, if you eat a banana by itself, your blood sugar will rise fairly quickly. "But if you pair fruit with foods that have healthy fats in them, such as blueberries with walnuts or apricots with mozzarella cheese, you will decrease the influence of the fruit on your blood sugar," says Olivier. "These fats slow down the absorption of the glucose from fruit and prevent your blood sugar from spiking as high." Nuts and nut butters, plain yogurt, cheese and even avocado will all help blunt your blood sugar response when eating fruit, due to their protein and fat content.
The advice you've heard to eat the whole fruit (like the Fresh Fruit Salad, pictured above) instead of drinking fruit juice follows the same reasoning. "The whole fruit has fiber, which is lost in the juice," says Gourley. Fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar. "It's also easy to consume far more carbohydrates than necessary when drinking fruit juice," adds Gourley.
The same goes for dried fruit. "Dried fruit is a great snack, but 1/4 cup has 15 grams of carbohydrates, so I suggest using dried fruit on salads or mixed into plain yogurt instead of eating it alone," says Gourley.
How Much Fruit Is Too Much?
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that, on average, adults consume two cups of fruit per day. A one-cup serving would be one piece of fruit, like an apple or peach, or one cup of cut-up fruit. Specific guidelines and amounts can be found at MyPlate.
Olivier says, "In general, having about a handful size of fruit three times daily is appropriate." Just remember to pair it with protein or fat. "An apple as a snack can raise blood sugar faster than an apple with almond butter," says Olivier.
The Bottom Line
Whether you have diabetes or not, fruit is your friend. Branch out from apples and bananas, and eat a variety of fruits, especially blue, red, and purple fruits like berries, which are high in antioxidants and raise blood sugar the least. Try not to eat fruit alone. Pair it with healthy fat, like nuts or nut butter, to slow digestion and blood sugar rise. Consume dried fruits and fruit juice in moderation. And if you have diabetes, remember to count the total grams of carbohydrates, not just the grams of sugar, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).