Are Oranges Good for Diabetes? Insights from a Dietitian

As a dietitian living with type 1 diabetes, I’m often asked if oranges are good for people with diabetes.

The amount of sugar in oranges and other fruit can cause some people living with diabetes to question if they should even bother including fruit in their diets at all.

In this article, we will cover the benefits and cons of eating oranges when you have diabetes.

**This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose any disease. The information in this article is not a substitute for medical care or advice provided by your healthcare team. Please consult your doctor or dietitian for specific, personalized treatment.***

What are oranges?

Oranges are a type of citrus fruit, a class of fruit which includes tangerines, clementines, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. 

There are different varieties of oranges such as blood orange, valencia orange, and navel orange. Most oranges are roughly the size of a softball with a tough outer orange skin and juicy, membranous fruit inside.  

Oranges nutrition info

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central, 1 cup of orange slices contain:

  • 85 calories
  • 1.7 grams of protein
  • <1 gram of fat
  • 21.2 grams of carbohydrates
  • 4.3 grams of fiber
  • 16.8 grams of sugar

Glycemic index of oranges

The glycemic index (GI) categorizes foods on a scale of 0-100 to determine how quickly a food will raise your blood sugar. Foods with a score of 55 or below are low glycemic, 56-69 are medium, and 70+ are high. 

Oranges, like most citrus fruits, have a low glycemic index score of 35 (1).

Foods that are low on the glycemic index scale are typically foods that will raise blood sugar more slowly (which is what we want!).

Benefits of eating oranges for diabetes

Below are the benefits of eating oranges when you have diabetes.

Vitamins and minerals

Oranges are good for your nerves, heart, and muscles as they are an excellent source of the mineral, potassium. Oranges also contain other important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, iron, and manganese (2).

Good for your heart

People with diabetes are more likely to have heart problems like high blood pressure and stroke. In the United States and many other countries, heart disease affects millions of people every year and is the main reason people become ill or die early (3).

Research supports that eating fruits like oranges every day can help control blood pressure and keep your heart healthy (3).

Antioxidants 

Oranges contain certain antioxidants which are substances found in some foods that protect against damaging free radicals in the body (4).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the more familiar antioxidants found in oranges and is important for maintaining healthy skin and aiding in the healing of tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. 

It’s also beneficial in healing foot ulcers, a common and severe issue among individuals with diabetes (4).

Flavonoids 

Flavonoids are natural compounds with potential antioxidant and heart protective benefits found in fruits and vegetables.

Research has also shown the citrus flavonoid, hesperetin, lowers high blood sugar in rats with diabetes by helping the pancreas to release insulin (5).

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are another antioxidant responsible for the orange, red, and yellow color of oranges and other fruits and vegetables. 

A study with rats on a high-fructose diet showed that β-cryptoxanthin in oranges could improve conditions like type 2 diabetes. 

The rats were given citrus concentrate rich in β-cryptoxanthin, hesperidin, and pectin for eight weeks. After eight weeks, they had lower insulin, sugar, and unhealthy fat levels in their blood (5). 

Low calorie snack

In addition to monitoring carb intake, some people with diabetes may watch their calories as well. 

Per serving, oranges are low in calories and contain a good amount of fiber. This makes them an easy snack choice for those trying to manage weight with diabetes.

Cons of eating oranges

There may be a couple cons to eating oranges when you have diabetes.

Contains only carbs

One key nutrient that helps keep blood sugars more stable is protein, something oranges and all fruit lack.

If you’re having a carb-only food like an orange, make sure to eat some protein too. Protein takes longer to digest, so you’ll feel full for longer and your blood sugar will rise more gradually.

If you aren’t sure what foods contain carbs or protein, download my free cheat sheet here.

Not for kidney disease

Kidney disease is common in people with diabetes and can get worse over time, leading to kidney failure. 

Your kidneys help remove a mineral called potassium from your blood. But if your kidneys aren’t working properly, too much potassium can build up and harm your heart. 

If you have kidney disease, your doctor or dietitian might suggest avoiding or cutting down on oranges because they’re high in potassium.

Individual glycemic response

How your blood sugar responds to something is called glycemic response. Your glycemic response may be very different from someone else with diabetes.

It’s not just about eating carbs; other things like hormones, metabolism, physical activity, and medications can affect how your blood sugar reacts to foods like oranges. 

If you’re having trouble keeping your blood sugar steady and it feels like a rollercoaster of highs and lows, it’s a good idea to talk to a diabetes educator. 

They can help create a personalized plan to better manage your diabetes for YOU.

How much orange should someone with diabetes eat?

This depends on your personal diabetes management goals.

A couple questions to consider: Is the orange a snack or are you eating it with a meal? Do you have a certain range of carbs you aim for at meals and snacks?

A standard serving of carbs is 15 grams, which is about 1 cup of oranges. But that’s just a suggestion; you can eat more or less if you want!

Monitor your servings and carb amounts to help you figure out how much orange is good for you.

Is orange juice good for diabetes?

Orange juice is good for treating low blood sugars in people with diabetes as it’s a quick digesting source of sugar.

While orange juice does contain vitamins and minerals, it’s lacking fiber which is important for blood sugar management. It’s also very easy to drink a larger portion of juice which leads to a lot of fast digesting carbs and high blood sugar.

Whenever possible, always try to choose whole fruit over their juices at meals and snacks. Whole fruit contains fiber and even the act of chewing can help you feel more satisfied and full.

Final thoughts

So, can people with diabetes eat oranges?

Yes! 

Keeping blood sugars more stable can still happen while eating oranges when you measure your portion (or at least guesstimate!), include a source of protein, and take your diabetes medications.

If you want more information about diabetes nutrition, check out my other resources:

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