Many people often think fruit is “bad” for diabetes due to its sugar content. When I taught diabetes education classes, fruit was always something my patients tried cutting out before meeting with me.
The main health goal for diabetes should be to have stable blood sugars as often as possible while still having the best quality of life. Diet plays a huge role in managing blood sugars, and it’s important to know how different foods, like fruit, can affect them.
In this article, we will cover all things on fruit that is a little more blood sugar friendly: low glycemic fruit.
What is glycemic index?
First, you need to understand the glycemic index in order to know what makes certain fruit ‘low glycemic’.
The glycemic index refers to how quickly foods that have carbs will raise your blood sugar. It’s based on a number system between 0 and 100.
Foods on the index that are 55 and below are considered low glycemic. Foods between 56 and 69 are medium and those 70+ are high glycemic.
For comparison, carb free foods like meats, eggs, and cheese have a GI of 0 as they do not raise blood sugar. Low to medium glycemic index numbered foods are mainly dairy and complex carbs like fruits, vegetables, certain grains, and beans.
High glycemic foods quickly spike your blood sugar and are mostly things like sugar cereals, candy, and other high calorie, low nutrient foods.
How is glycemic index relevant to diabetes?
The idea behind the glycemic index is to choose lower glycemic foods which are mainly complex carbs full of fiber and other nutrients.
While this information reminds you that instant mashed potatoes will quickly spike your blood sugar, you still need to know portion sizes and carb amounts for accurate insulin dosing (if you take insulin) and/or to stay within your carb goal per meal.
What is glycemic load (GL)?
The glycemic index falls short in one main area. It does not take standard serving sizes into account. It only measures how quickly your blood sugar will rise after eating 50 grams worth of that certain food (1).
For example, watermelon is considered a high glycemic index food, although one serving of watermelon (1 cup) doesn’t contain very many carbs… 11.5 grams to be exact.
This is where glycemic load comes into play. Glycemic load takes into account the amount of food being eaten and is based off standard serving sizes (1).
Glycemic load also has low, medium, and high number ranges indicating how quickly a certain food will raise your blood sugar. Low is 10 or less, medium is 11 to 19, and high is 2o or more. Because of the relatively small carb amount in a serving of watermelon, it actually has a glycemic load of 5.6, making it fall in the low category.
Carb counting vs. glycemic index/load
After covering glycemic index and glycemic load, are you confused yet? I totally understand! Like I said before, the glycemic index can be a helpful tool in some scenarios, but it shouldn’t be the only tool, especially if you take insulin to manage your diabetes.
Measuring portions, counting carbs, choosing more complex carbs vs. simple carbs, and pairing them with protein and fat are the best strategies to having more food-related stable blood sugars.
The good news is, if you’re mostly choosing complex carbs, (like fruit!) you’re probably having mostly low GI/GL foods anyway. Don’t sweat it!
Benefits of fruit for diabetes
Fruit is beneficial for diabetes as most fruits are low to medium on the glycemic index because of their fructose, a sugar found in fruit, and fiber content.
With the exception of dried fruit and avocado, fruit is low in calories, typically 60-80 calories per serving, which can help with weight loss.
Fruit is also full of good-for-you nutrients.
Important nutrients in fruit
Fruit is an easy way to get fiber, vitamins, and minerals in your diet.
Incorporating more foods with fiber into your diet can help improve blood sugars, weight, cholesterol, and more (2). There are many high-fiber fruits, like raspberries and pears, that can help women reach a goal of about 25 grams of fiber and men around 30 grams of fiber daily.
Fruit is also a good source of nutrients your body needs like the antioxidant vitamin C, the mineral potassium, and vitamin K to name a few.
Keep fruit in your diet
Unless you’re allergic, there really is no need to remove fruit from your diet when you have diabetes. People with diabetes may feel a need to avoid fruit due to it containing carbs and sugar. But, cutting out fruit causes you to miss out on all the benefits discussed above.
Instead of avoiding fruit, experiment with how different low and medium glycemic fruit impact your blood sugars, especially when paired with a protein and/or fat source.
Low and medium glycemic fruit
Below are lists of popular low to medium glycemic fruit along with their nutrition info.
Low glycemic fruit
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits)
Medium glycemic fruit
- Sweetened dry cranberries
For reference, the % Daily Value of vitamin C is 90 mg, potassium is 4,700 mg, and dietary fiber is 28 grams for adults and children ages 4 and older (3).
Nutrition facts per 1 cup serving of low-glycemic fresh fruits
|Strawberries||46||11 g||3 g||89 mg||233 mg|
|Blueberries||84||21 g||3.5 g||14 mg||114 mg|
|Raspberries||64||15 g||8 g||32 mg||186 mg|
|Bananas||133||34 g||4 g||13 mg||537 mg|
|Apples||57||15 g||2.5 g||5 mg||117 mg|
|Pears||81||22 g||4 g||6 mg||167 mg|
|Cherries||97||25 g||3 g||11 mg||342 mg|
|Oranges||85||21 g||4 g||96 mg||326 mg|
|Grapefruit||74||19 g||2.5 g||79 mg||320 mg|
|Avocados||233||13 g||10 g||15 mg||708 mg|
Incorporating low glycemic fruit into your diet
Remember, just because a fruit is considered low-glycemic, doesn’t mean it won’t raise your blood sugar.
Portions and protein
Knowing portion sizes for carb counting and including a protein and/or fat with fruit are still the best methods for stable blood sugars.
When choosing fruit as a snack or part of meal, aim for a portion size that will get you around 15-20 grams of carbs. This looks like 1 small piece of a whole fruit such as an apple, 1/2 cup frozen or canned fruit, and around 3/4-1 cup of berries or melon.
If you choose to eat dried fruit, canned fruit with added sugar, or fruit juice, be aware of serving sizes as the carbs can add up pretty quickly.
Ideas for fruit in meals and snacks
Low-glycemic fruit is a refreshing addition to many meals and snacks. Remember to combine it with a source of protein and/or fat.
Some meal and snack ideas include:
- Add berries to a salad with grilled chicken
- Blend frozen strawberries, coconut milk, and vanilla Greek yogurt into a smoothie
- Choose apple slices as a side at a fast-food joint
- Top a bowl of oatmeal mixed with vanilla protein powder with blueberries, shredded coconut, and nut butter
- Add avocado slices to sandwiches, wraps, salads, and egg dishes
- Mash raspberries with chia seeds to make a “jam” for a peanut butter sandwich
- Drizzle peanut butter over banana slices
- Combine an apple with a cheese stick
- Make frozen Greek yogurt bark with berries
- Eat a sliced pear with a handful of walnuts
Considerations and precautions
As always, consult with your doctor, dietitian, or diabetes educator for personal recommendations and help with managing your blood sugars.
Monitoring individual glycemic response
As mentioned previously, low-glycemic fruit still has carbs and will still raise blood sugar. They may just raise it much slower than other carb foods. Monitor how different fruits impact your blood sugar and decide when it’s best to have certain fruits.
Interaction with medication
If you take certain statins, you may need to avoid grapefruit as it can mess with your body’s ability to metabolize the drug. Double check with your doctor before eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice while on a statin.
Despite concerns with the sugar in fruit and how it impacts blood sugars, fruit can actually be enjoyed as part of a diabetes-friendly eating pattern.
Understanding glycemic index and glycemic load can be helpful tools in learning which foods, like fruit, are better for stable blood sugars, but they shouldn’t be the only tools.
Remember, portion control, carb counting, and pairing complex carbs with protein and fat sources remain the ideal strategies in diabetes nutrition.
If you want more information about diabetes nutrition, check out my other resources:
- Carb Counting Cheat Sheet
- Free eBook: Eating With Diabetes: A Guide for Beginners
- 48 Best Packaged Snacks for Diabetes
Megan is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, and a Certified Insulin Pump Trainer. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Iowa State University. She has had type 1 diabetes since she was 11 years old and has taught diabetes education for many years.