Think you can’t eat fruit once you have diabetes? This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Feel free to take apples and oranges off your forbidden foods list; even bananas can come out of exile. The notion that fruit is off-limits for people with diabetes because it contains sugar is a common diabetes misconception, says Jessica Crandall, RDN, CDE, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. Your body needs carbohydrates to function and for energy, and fruits are a good source of carbs. These naturally sweet foods are also loaded with health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
“The benefits far outweigh any concerns,” adds Crandall, who also serves as spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, some new research published in the British Medical Journal found eating whole fruits significantly reduced the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
As with any kind of carbs, when you have diabetes, you have to be mindful of your portions. A small piece of whole fruit—roughly the size of tennis ball—or cup of berries contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates. (In general, the recommended amount of carbs per meal for people with diabetes is 30 grams to 45 grams; your doctor may suggest more or less, depending on your weight, activity level, and other factors.)
Your best bet: Work a variety of whole fruits into your daily diabetic diet, including these top expert picks from the produce aisle:
All berries enjoy superfood status in the eyes of diabetes nutrition experts: They’re packed with vitamins and nutrients, and they won’t spike your blood sugar when you eat them in proper portions, says Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator who has successfully managed her own diabetes for more than 45 years. Blackberries, in particular, are high in blood sugar-steadying fiber: one cup contains almost 8 grams of fiber. Fiber is key to help manage diabetes. Because your body doesn’t break it down, fiber doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. What it does do is help with digestion (helping to prevent constipation) and keep you feeling fuller, longer. Research shows fiber may help you manage your weight.
These little blue gems are high in antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage and may help improve circulation. This is particularly beneficial for someone with diabetes, explains registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator Melissa Joy Dobbins, RDN, CDE. Diabetes can cause blood vessels in your foot and leg to harden, reducing blood flow and hampering circulation. If the cost of fresh blueberries is prohibitive, or if you worry about them spoiling before you get through an entire container, opt for frozen ones, suggests Crandall. They’re still nutritious, but are often more affordable and last longer.
As sweet as strawberries are, one cup of whole strawberries contains only about 7 grams of sugar and 12 total grams of carbs. Eating them has minimal impact on raising your blood sugar, explains Marina Chaparro, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Plus, strawberries are low in calories (less than 50 calories in a cup of whole berries) and high in vitamin C, which your body needs to help keep your immune system strong.
Leave the skin on for an extra dose of satisfying fiber in this great on-the-go snack. Apples provide two types of fiber, explains Smithson: insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to stool so food passes more quickly through the stomach and intestines; and soluble fiber, which helps slow down digestion and keep cholesterol levels at bay. Eating apples has been linked to a lower risk of diabetes in some research. And a study published in Atherosclerosis suggests apples may also be linked with a lower risk of stroke.
Similar to apples, these white-fleshed fruits have been linked in research to a lower risk of stroke. And gram for gram, they even have a little more fiber than apples. “People with diabetes have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease,” explains Crandall, “so eating foods high in fiber can be advantageous.” A fiber-rich diet can help prevent heart disease, in part, from its ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. (Here are ways to eat for a healthier heart.) One little-known fact about pears: They don’t ripen on the tree. Store them at room temp, and they’ll slowly ripen to that sweet flavor and succulent texture you crave in each bite.
Gram for gram, pears have even more fiber than apples.
One orange delivers almost all the vitamin C you need in a day. In addition to helping maintain a healthy immune system, vitamin C also helps with wound healing, adds Crandall. People with diabetes may develop nerve damage in their feet, called neuropathy. This can cause you to lose feeling in your foot and raise your risk of injury. Oranges also contain potassium, which helps with circulation and healing.
One orange delivers almost all the vitamin C you need in a day.
They’re a great source of vitamins A and C, fiber, and potassium—all important nutrients in a diabetic diet. Peaches are a good option to help treat an episode of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, adds Smithson.