If you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may be swiping left on fruits like pineapple and grapes. But while they’re not great candidates for an exclusive fruit relationship, a little sampling doesn’t hurt every now and then.
In fact, in moderation and paired with healthy fats or protein, most fruits can be part of a healthy eating plan. All fruit is packed with soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals you’ll want to load up on.
So, instead of ruling out certain types of fruit, just keep track of their carbohydrate content and where they rank in terms of glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) and adjust your portion sizes accordingly.
Glycemic load takes into account both the GI and the grams of carbohydrates in each serving. Foods that have both a low GI and a low GL are better for controlling blood sugar levels.
Some experts recommend using glycemic load as a better predictor of the effect a food will have on blood sugar levels.
Fruits with a high GI raise blood sugar more than those with a low GI.
Foods that have both a low GI and a low GL are better for controlling blood sugar levels.
The fruits listed below are your dietary MVPs. You’ll want to celebrate their greatness by hoisting them in the air… or just by eating them regularly. All of them have a GI of 55 or below and a GL under 10 per serving.
Apples provide healthy fiber, which is important for, you know, staying regular. They’re tasty on their own or with a tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter.
Bananas are an inexpensive and delicious way to get some potassium and vitamin C.
Be sure to eat your bananas as soon as they’re ripe (or even while they’re still a little green). The longer they sit and the browner they get, the sweeter they become. True story — according to a 1992 study, this raises the sugar content and the GI.
Remember that half a medium banana is the recommended serving size.
Pre-PEAR yourself! Pears are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. And red-skinned pears contain carotenoids, which are thought to reduce the risk of certain cancers and eye disease. What’s not to love?
4. Prunes (pitted)
In addition to possibly being your grandma’s favorite fruit, prunes are one of the lowest-GI fruits. Plus, they’re a natural remedy for constipation and are rich in antioxidants. Generally, two to three prunes is considered a serving.
Sweet, sweet berries are actually very low on the GI index. Eating 1 cup of strawberries can also protect your heart, increase your HDL (good) cholesterol level, and decrease your LDL (bad) cholesterol level.
These fruits are OK to eat in smaller portions. Reach for them less often than the low-GI fruits listed above. They have a GI of 56 to 69 and a GL under 11.
Fresh apricots might not be your usual go-to fruit, but they have a certain zing you can’t get anywhere else. Enjoy them on their own or try grilling them and eating them with a protein like chicken.
One cup of grapes is a healthy way to get some fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. They’re also easy to enjoy right out of the bag (just wash them first!) and a great addition to your packed lunch.
Kiwi is an excellent source of vitamins E and K, folate, and potassium. Try slicing up a small kiwi to enjoy with some protein-rich Greek yogurt for breakfast.
Time-saving tip: You don’t need to peel kiwis to eat them. Their skin is edible. Just make sure to wash them before you dig in.
Pineapple is a delicious source of bromelain (an anti-inflammatory), and it’s also rich in vitamin C. Try pairing it with a protein like cottage cheese.
These fruits have a GI of 70 or more. Treat high-GI fruits like a flashing yellow light: Proceed with caution. Try eating a smaller portion and then checking your blood sugar reading 1 to 2 hours later. Variety is the spice of life, right?
Watermelon has a high GI but a low GL, so experiment with smaller portions and monitor its effect on your blood sugar.
Yes, technically, pumpkin is a fruit. Its high GI but lower GL may mean that it’s fine to consume with a little cinnamon and no-calorie sweetener.
You can also nibble on a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds. They’re loaded with nutrients and might even help lower your blood sugar.
Let’s not forget the gray-area “other” fruits. These may be considered medium-GI foods, but they contain higher amounts of sugar per serving.
Dried fruit may seem convenient, but watch out. It can contain more sugar than the fresh kind, possibly including added sugar. Keep portion sizes small and read labels.
Applesauce with added sugar
Apples alone are great, but applesauce can have added sugar. Look for “unsweetened” or “no sugar added” on labels. You can make your own at home with no added sugar or sugar substitutes, or eat fresh apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon.
GI: 40–68 (depending on brand and type)
GL: 10–16 (depending on brand and type)
The high carb content of fruit juice makes it a less-than-ideal choice. Choose fresh fruit instead and you’ll get more nutrients and healthy fiber, too.
Fruit-flavored snacks are usually loaded with added sugars and other ingredients you don’t need. Opt for homemade versions of these using fresh fruit where possible, and limit to small amounts on special occasions.
- fruit yogurt
- wine coolers
- gummy snacks
Fruit is rich in micronutrients, including:
- Vitamins. Fruit contains an alphabet of vitamins, including A, B, C, E, and K. A diet rich in vitamins helps support your immune system, keeps your eyes and skin healthy, supports bone health, and more.
- Water. Fruit’s water content helps you stay hydrated throughout the day without having to drink cup after cup (but be sure you’re drinking about 8 cups of water each day, too).
- Phytochemicals. These compounds are thought to help prevent Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain types of cancer, but research to assess these benefits is ongoing.
Fruit is also rich in soluble fiber, and a 1994 study found that diets high in soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease risk and can help with weight control.
The current recommendation for adults is to get 25 to 30 grams of soluble fiber per day.
This depends a lot on your individual needs. Your doctor or a registered dietitian/nutritionist can help you figure out how much fruit is appropriate for you to eat. Most adults should aim to eat at least 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
When it comes to serving sizes, one small piece of whole fruit or a half-cup of frozen fruit has about 15 grams of carbohydrates. For comparison, a mere 2 tablespoons of dried fruit has 15 grams of carbs.
If you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the optimal amount of carbs you’ll need each day varies. Everyone responds to carbs a bit differently. To figure out what’s best for you, you may want to test your blood sugar before and after eating fruit.
In general, research shows that keeping your carb intake between 20% and 45% of calories per day is effective for improving blood sugar control.
A single serving of fruit can contain 15 to 30 grams of carbs. But pairing fruit with healthy protein sources and/or healthy fats lowers the overall GL.
Try eating apple slices along with a lean protein like chicken or fish cooked in a healthy fat like olive oil. Or dip apple slices in a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter for a great snack. This combo can also satisfy your hunger longer, which curbs overeating. Win-win!
Keep in mind that the USDA recommends limiting calories from fat to 20 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake.
Make sure to limit fats and oils that are high in saturated and trans fat. These are usually found in processed foods like potato chips, animal products, and cookies.
Tips for meeting your daily fat and protein goals
Remove empty carbs
Refined bread, cookies, pasta, and sweetened drinks will spike your blood sugar quickly and don’t offer the nutrition and energy boost you’d get from fruit.
Increase plant protein
Higher-fat animal protein sources are linked to insulin resistance, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and obesity. Look for alternative sources like tofu, beans, and all-natural peanut butter when possible.
Meal-prepping each week means you’ll always have healthy, balanced meals within reach.
Get creative with ways to add fruit to your meals, too. Examples include berries on top of oatmeal, citrus squeezed onto fish, and a fruit sauce made with berries to go over chicken.
If you live with diabetes, there really are no forbidden fruits. Just remember that lower-GI/GL fruits are a better fit for you and should probably be part of your everyday diet.
Of course, everyone’s daily needs vary slightly. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian/nutritionist about how to create a custom meal plan that works best for your health.