People with type 2 diabetes know that they need to limit the amount of sugar that they eat — even natural sugars. So how important is fruit for diabetes? Contrary to what you may have heard, it's actually a crucial part of a good diabetes diet according to a 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal that followed nearly 190,000 people over a number of years to see who would develop type 2 diabetes or not. The study, which looked at the association between diabetes and eating fruit, found that eating whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, significantly reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, drinking more fruit juices actually increases the risk for diabetes. "If you have type 2 diabetes, you do need to watch your sugar," explains Katie Barbera, RD, CDE, a registered dietician and diabetes educator at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. "Both whole fruit and fruit juice have sugar, but a fruit is only equal to about 4 ounces of fruit juice. If you drink 12 ounces of fruit juice, you could be getting too much sugar," she says. "And whole fruits have a lot of other advantages for a diabetes diet." Understanding the Sugar in Fruit Having type 2 diabetes means having to count your carbohydrates (carbs). Like vegetables and grains, fruits are carbs, and you need them. If you have diabetes, figuring out the best fruits for diabetes is about more than counting carbs. "Whole fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants," Barbera says. "They have a lot of fiber, so they make you feel fuller and satisfy your hunger. They also add a lot of flavor to a diabetes diet." Antioxidants are important because they help prevent cell damage. "Antioxidants in a diabetes diet may help reduce inflammation caused by oxidative stress," Barbera says. Oxidative stress may contribute to complications of diabetes. "To get the most antioxidants, look for fruits with a variety of bright colors and full flavors," she says. A 2013 study published in the National Journal of Integrated Research in Medicine compared people with type 2 diabetes who were on an oral diabetes medication alone to those on medication along with antioxidant supplements. After three months, people taking medication and antioxidants had less oxidative stress than the other group.
Unlike fruit juice, a whole fruit still has all of its fiber. That's important for a diabetes diet because fiber isn't digestible —it fills you up without raising your blood sugar. Including more fiber in your diet means better blood sugar control. To get the most fiber, eat your fruit with the skin or peel on it. Counting Fruit Carbs and Other Diabetes Tips "Most people with diabetes should get about 45 grams of carbs per meal," Barbera says, adding that it's important to balance fruit with proteins and other sources of healthy carbohydrates. "The key is to count the carbs and spread them out through the day to keep your blood sugar under control." Your doctor and the feedback you get from monitoring your blood sugar can help you learn how. A small piece of whole fruit has about 15 grams of carbohydrate. So does one-third cup of fruit juice or one-half cup of canned or frozen fruit (as long as there's no sugar added). Dried fruit is another good source of fiber and antioxidants, but it can have 15 grams of carbohydrate in just 2 tablespoons, so measure your portions carefully. If you want to drink fruit juice, drink only 100 percent fruit juice without any added sugar. Also, try to limit your fruit juice to half a cup per serving. You might consider substituting a tasty vegetable juice that will allow you to drink a whole cup with only 10 grams of carbohydrates.
Best Fruits to Eat for Diabetes
Consider these high-antioxidant fruit choices as the best fruits to eat for a healthy diabetes diet:
• Citrus fruits
Colorful, flavorful fruits in all varieties have a healthy place in your diabetes diet. Just remember to count your carbs and eat fruit in moderation. Choose whole fruits instead of fruit juices because they're better for you, taste great, and fill you up faster and longer with fewer total carbs.