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We all know at least one person with diabetes or have been told by the doctor to keep an eye on sugar in foods to prevent diabetes.
Diabetes affects 29 million people and is a significant cause of death in the United States. (1)
All food can be classified as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates are the only macronutrients that affect blood sugar. Carbohydrate foods are starches, starchy vegetables, grains, milk and milk substitutes, sweets, and fruits.
When carbohydrates are eaten, they raise blood sugar; a hormone called insulin carries the sugar into the cells to be used as a source of energy.
In people with diabetes, insulin cannot get the sugar in cells, and it stays in the bloodstream. This happens because their bodies do not make insulin or do not respond to insulin. Unhealthy levels of sugar in the bloodstream leads to high blood sugar and other complications.
The main concern for many diabetes or prediabetes patients is if carbohydrates should be removed from their diet altogether, and the answer is NO.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the body, so giving them up completely will cause hunger and dizziness to state the least. Instead, you should monitor the amount and type of carbs you are consuming.
Fruits are supposed to be one of the most nutritious sources of carbs that can help improve your health and even your blood sugar if eaten in appropriate quantities.
Recommended Fruit Intake for People With Diabetes
Fruits have natural sugar, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One serving of fruit contains between 11 and 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Some examples of serving sizes that are 15 grams of carbohydrates are:
A general rule of thumb is to consume between 45 grams and 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and between 15 and 30 grams per snack. (2)
Fruits That Are Considered Best for People With Diabetes
The best fruits for people with diabetes are fruits they enjoy. All fruits can be incorporated into a healthy diet, but some fruits are more suitable for people with diabetes than others.
Here are some of the healthiest fruits that can help with blood sugar control:
One medium-sized apple contains about 25 grams of carbs and 4.4 grams, both of which have the opposite effect on blood sugar. (3)
The carbs break down to release glucose during digestion, automatically raising blood sugar, but the fibrous content of apples slows this process to stabilize blood sugar.
Fiber takes time to break down, inadvertently slowing down carb metabolism and the subsequent release of glucose.
Moreover, apples are full of antioxidants and other essential nutrients that are good for your health in general and diabetes control in particular.
In fact, people with borderline diabetes or prediabetes are also recommended to eat apples as part of an overall low-glycemic diet to keep their blood sugar under control. This can help keep their condition from progressing into full-fledged diabetes. (4)
Cherries derive their bright color from naturally occurring plant pigments called anthocyanins. These polyphenolic compounds are known for their strong antioxidant properties, but they have also come to be recognized for their ability to stabilize blood glucose.
A study conducted by Michigan State University found that the anthocyanins in cherries and other fruits such as blueberries increased insulin production in lab results, which lead to better diabetes management. (5)
Note: Don’t consume canned or candied (glace) cherries, which are heavily processed and contain a lot of added sugar that can worsen diabetes.
3. Black plum
Black plums can help increase insulin production, which helps your body utilize glucose for energy. Thus, as more blood glucose is exhausted for energy, there is less of it in the blood.
Moreover, people with diabetes often suffer from increased urination and black plum can help with reducing their urine output.
This delicious fruit is known to reduce appetite as well and can therefore help with weight loss. It is very important for people with diabetes to maintain a healthy body weight.
Every part of the fruit, from its flesh to its leaves, bark, and seeds, is known to exhibit antidiabetic properties and is safe to consume.
Guavas are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and dietary fiber, all of which help in the regulation of blood sugar.
Vitamins A and C are powerful antioxidants that help limit or counteract the activity of unstable molecules called free radicals in the body. Free radicals damage the healthy cells and tissues, paving the way for various diseases, including diabetes.
Also, diabetes itself can cause damage to the blood vessels, which can be reduced or reversed to some degree by consuming an antioxidant-rich diet.
Moreover, the fiber in guavas helps in delaying carb digestion so that glucose is slowly released into the bloodstream, thus preventing any sudden spikes in blood sugar.
Not just that, the fiber also adds bulk to stools, making them easier to pass and thus relieving constipation, which is a common problem among diabetics.
According to the American Diabetes Association, grapefruit has all the makings of a diabetes-friendly fruit: loaded with soluble fiber, essential vitamins, and antioxidants, (6) while being low on the glycemic index.
One particular component that makes grapefruit a special delight for diabetics is the flavonoid called naringenin, which improves the way the body utilizes insulin and helps with healthy weight management, both of which are important factors for diabetes control and prevention.
Strawberries figure low on the glycemic index, which means their carb content takes a while to be digested by the body.
The slow breakdown of these carbs gradually releases glucose in the blood, ensuring no rapid rise in blood sugar.
Antioxidant-rich strawberries are not only good for your immunity but also possess cancer-fighting properties.
Moreover, this healthy treat can help satisfy your sweet tooth without adding to your calorie or sugar load. In fact, they are considered good for your metabolism, which means they can help you lose weight, a bonus for people with diabetes.
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, and calcium.
Monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy fats. They increase HDL (good cholesterol), which reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body and protects the heart.
Avocados are naturally low in sugar, with just 1 gram of sugar per fruit. (7) Adding fatty fruits such as avocado, nuts, and seeds are suitable for a diabetic diet.
Peaches are replete with fiber that slows down the release and uptake of sugar in the blood during digestion.
Moreover, they contain plenty of antioxidants, mainly vitamins A and C, which fight free radical damage, which contributes to the development of diabetes and diabetes-related complications. (8)
Oranges are perhaps the richest source of vitamin C but also have considerable sugar.
Thus, while people with well-controlled diabetes can benefit from eating this citrus fruit as part of an overall healthy diet, those with poorly managed type 2 diabetes have to be more mindful about its high sugar content.
Like any other diabetic-friendly food, oranges are safe and healthy as long as they are consumed in recommended amounts.
Kiwi has a high fiber content that slows down carb metabolism and thereby the release of glucose in the bloodstream. (9)
Thus, kiwi is another low-glycemic fruit that can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar better, a claim that has been supported by many researchers. (10)
Some Important Tips When Including Fruits in a Diabetic Diet
- Plan out meals ahead of time to find out where fruits can be incorporated.
- Eat fruits as snacks.
- Read food labels on canned fruits to make sure it has no added sugar or syrup.
- Read food labels to check the total carbohydrate content and adjust accordingly.
- Eat fruits that you enjoy and try new fruits.
- Speak to a registered dietitian if you have any questions.
Complications Caused by High Blood Sugar
Excess sugar in the bloodstream travels all over the body and causes damage. The primary health complications that can be caused by high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, are:
- Cardiovascular diseases (heart disease)
- Nephropathy (kidney disease)
- Retinopathy (eye damage)
- Nerve damage
Can People With Diabetes Consume Canned Fruits?
Canned fruits are a great fruit option and a great way to add more fruits to the diet because of their convenience. These fruits are canned at harvest to ensure the best quality and taste.
Studies have shown that there is not enough difference nutritionally between fresh fruits and canned fruits. (8)
When choosing canned fruits, select ones that are canned in water, 100% juice, or their juice to avoid added sugar.
Should People Consume Juices of Fresh Fruits?
People can drink fruit juices. Half a cup of fruit juice is about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Fruit juice can replace whole fruits as a fruit choice.
It is best to choose juices that are 100% juice and have little added sugar. But as much as possible, whole or canned fruits should be selected over fruit juices because they keep you fuller.
What Level of Blood Sugar Is Considered Dangerously High?
People with diabetes should track their hemoglobin A1c level and fasting blood glucose. Hemoglobin A1c measures the amount of glucose left on the red blood cells over three months. (11)
- Normal A1c is less than or equal to 5.6.
- Prediabetes is between 5.7 and 6.4.
- Diabetes is greater than or equal to 6.5.
- People over 65 years should have less than or equal to 7.
- The goal A1c level for a person with diabetes is 7.
Fasting blood glucose is the amount of sugar in the bloodstream after no caloric intake of about 8 hours.
- Normal blood glucose is between 70 and 100 mg/dl.
- Impaired sugar level is between 100 and 125 mg/dl.
- Diabetes is 126 mg/dl.
- Two hours after a meal, the blood sugar should be less than 140 mg/dl.
- A random plasma sugar level should not exceed 200 mg/dl.
Regular trips to the doctor will help determine your lab levels and if dietary changes are needed.
Honey as a Sugar Substitute for Better Diabetes Management
Honey has a low glycemic index, which slowly raises blood sugar, unlike regular table sugar with a high glycemic index. It is okay to add honey to a diet, but it should be monitored like other foods with carbohydrates.
Honey is a form of sugar and is viewed as an added sugar. A tablespoon of honey has about 15 grams of carbohydrate.
There are sugar-free sweeteners such as stevia that can be added to a cup of coffee or tea to add more sweetness.
Fruits have a high nutritional value but they are not without sugar or carbs, so you cannot afford to eat them mindlessly, especially if you are prediabetic or diabetic.
The healthiest way to consume fruits for optimal sugar control is to include them in an overall nutritious, well-balanced diet that focuses on low-glycemic foods.
Bear in mind that not all low-glycemic foods are healthy, so you have to consider the complete nutritional content of the food before including it in your diet.
While all fruits in recommended portions are safe for diabetics, the best ones are those that are high in fiber and low in sugar/carbs.