Eating fruit can be part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes.
a collage of a glucometer in front of some fruits
Credit: Getty Images

Living with diabetes requires paying particular attention to the foods and nutrients in the diet, mainly carbohydrates. Because fruit is a natural source of carbohydrates and contains naturally occurring sugar in the form of fructose, it's often questioned as a healthy addition to a diet for diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, experts recommend that fruit should be part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes.

"Fruit has the same benefits for people living with diabetes as it does for those who do not have diabetes," says Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H, RDN, author of The Easy Diabetes Cookbook. "Fruit offers vitamins, minerals and fiber to our daily diets. And most fruits have a high water content, which makes them a great hydrating food group."

Read more about why fruit can be part of a healthy diet for those with diabetes.

How Fruit Impacts Your Blood Sugar Levels

Fruit is a source of carbohydrates containing fiber and fructose. It also has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and water, making it a nutrient-dense food. But despite the many health-promoting nutrients in fruit, fructose is often singled out as the nutrient to avoid if you have diabetes.

Sugar in fruit

Unfortunately, this confusion perpetuates the myth that fruit should be avoided by those with diabetes and those looking to prevent diabetes. In fact, 2017 research published in PLOS Medicine shows that eating fruit as part of a healthy diet is associated with the prevention of chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes.

While fructose ultimately influences blood glucose levels, its intake in fruit comes with the addition of health-promoting nutrients. Plus, the quantity of fructose you'll consume when eating whole fruit is less than that you'd consume when eating or drinking foods that contain large amounts of fructose in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, an important distinction when considering the impact of fructose in fruit on blood sugar.

"People with diabetes can enjoy fruits if they'd like," says Phipps. "It's important to be mindful of carbohydrate counts and the impact on individual blood sugar levels, though. Make adjustments in serving size or try adding a protein source as needed."

Fiber in fruit

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in fruit. Unlike other carbohydrate sources, fiber is not digested by the body and doesn't cause your blood sugar levels to go up—quite the contrary.

According to a 2018 article published in Nutrients, dietary fiber intake not only increases satiety but it's also associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In other words, eating adequate fiber has been shown to positively affect the blood glucose response after a meal while also helping to improve feelings of fullness.

However, many Americans don't eat enough fiber. According to Amanda Veneman, RD, a wellness manager for Flik Hospitality Group, fiber is lacking in the American diet. "Most Americans only get half the amount fiber needed per day, and eating fruit is a great way to get closer to the recommended 30 grams," says Veneman.

People with diabetes may benefit from adding fruit to their diet to help meet daily fiber needs. "Fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can help fight disease while also providing a variety of health benefits," says Cari Riker, RDN, LDN, CDCES. Antioxidants in the diet help fight inflammation. Research shows that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduction in inflammatory markers, per a 2018 meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

All types of fruits contain fiber, but the quantity varies from one type to another. Some fruits are higher in fiber than others, which may make a difference in managing blood sugar when eating fruit if you have diabetes.

Some fruits that are high in fiber include berries like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, pears, apples and stone fruits like apricots and plums.

Types of Fruit

Fruit is available in a variety of forms, including fresh, canned, frozen, dried and fruit juice. Each type has differences in nutrient profile, including total fiber and carbohydrate content per serving. Understanding the differences in the types and preparation of fruit will help you make the best decision for your needs.

Fresh Fruit

All types of fresh fruit have health-promoting benefits for those with diabetes. The most important part of choosing the kind of fresh fruit to eat is ensuring that you enjoy it and it's readily available. Choosing seasonal fruits can help you eat a greater variety of fruit throughout the year.

Dried Fruit

When fruit is dried, the water is removed, and the carbohydrates concentrate in the fruit. This means that each serving of dried fruit contains more carbohydrates per gram than its fresh counterpart. For example, a cup of grapes contains approximately 16 grams of carbohydrates, whereas a cup of raisins (dried grapes) contains about 115 grams of carbohydrates. From a portion-size standpoint, dried fruit portions are significantly smaller for the same quantity of carbohydrates. Considering the portion size is essential, because carbohydrates can add up quickly when concentrated in smaller portions, as is the case with dried fruit.

Canned fruit

Canned fruit is a shelf-stable option if you're looking for fruit that will last. Fruit is typically canned in three ways—in its own juice, light syrup or heavy syrup. The differences in carbohydrates per serving will be significant depending on the type of canning process. When comparing the same variety of fruit, the type canned in its juice will have a lower number of carbohydrates per serving than the type canned in a light or heavy syrup. This is because syrups contain added sugar, increasing the total carbohydrates per serving. To ensure you're limiting added sugar, choosing a fruit canned in its juice versus one canned in syrup is best.

Frozen fruit

Frozen fruit is another long-lasting option if you're looking for fruit to keep on hand without concern of it spoiling within a few days or weeks. Most fruit is frozen without added sugars; however, checking the label of the frozen fruit can confirm the presence of additional ingredients that would impact the total calories or carbohydrates per serving.

Fruit juice

Compared to whole fruit, fruit juice has higher total carbohydrates per serving due to fiber removal. Research published in 2021 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that drinking fruit juice is associated with a rapid increase in blood sugar related to the lack of fiber. Those with diabetes should consider this, as the blood sugar response may differ when drinking fruit juice versus eating whole fruit.

Tips for Eating Fruit with Diabetes

As you can conclude, eating fruit can be part of a healthy diet for those with diabetes. "Including fruit in your diet every day helps to meet healthy eating goals set out by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," says Veneman. She notes that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat between 1.5 and 2 cups of fruit daily.

If you're concerned about a blood sugar spike, paying close attention to the composition of your meal or snack that includes fruit will be beneficial. Phipps encourages those with diabetes to eat fruit with a meal or paired with protein or fat to minimize the impact on blood sugar. "For example, instead of eating an apple by itself, try enjoying it with some peanut butter," she says.

Additionally, eating fruit with foods that contain protein and/or fat may aid with satiety. "Pairing fruit with fat and/or protein can help slow down the absorption of carbohydrates that promotes a steady rise in your blood sugar, which can help with promoting a sense of fullness for portion control," says Riker.

However, blood sugar response is highly individualized, according to Phipps. "How each individual responds to different types of fruit can be very different and has more to do with individual characteristics and not the type of diabetes," she says. For this reason, it's essential to monitor blood sugar response to various foods with the guidance of your health care provider or registered dietitian.

The Bottom Line

Eating fruit is part of a healthy diet for those with diabetes. The carbohydrates found in fruit should be treated differently than carbohydrates in the form of added sugar.

"When you eat fruits, you're consuming much more than simple sugars," says Riker. "Fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber, while added sugars do not offer any additional health benefits."

If you have diabetes, don't be afraid to eat fruit regularly. And if you don't have diabetes, remember that fruit may offer protective benefits in preventing chronic disease.