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Why Diabetics Should Eat Fruit

Article written and reviewed by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Published March 24, 2021

Can Diabetics Eat Fruit?

The simple answer? Yes, and they should! People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes often hear a common misconception that they shouldn’t eat fruit.

Since people with diabetes often struggle with managing their blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels), it would seem logical to avoid the high natural carbohydrate content of fruits in favor of low carb options.

However, fruits do not worsen your risk of type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and are actually proven to be a valuable part of an overall diet that decreases your risk of insulin resistance, and can actually help reverse the underlying causes of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

In this article, we’ll explain the real causes of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, the specific cases where you should be smart around your fruit intake, and the overwhelming body of evidence supporting the addition of fruit to your diet, irrespective of your diabetes status.

The Main Risk of Diabetes Complications: Insulin Resistance

The complications of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (and many of the complications of type 1 diabetes) originate from an underlying condition called insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance results from the accumulation of excess dietary fat in cells that are not designed to store large quantities of fat, which in turn inhibits the action of insulin.

Insulin resistance in your liver and muscle inhibits glucose uptake from your blood to both tissues, resulting in high blood glucose (hyperglycemia).

So while a high blood glucose is responsible for the complications of diabetes, it is not the underlying cause. Insulin resistance is.

And if you reverse insulin resistance (by reducing dietary fat, not dietary carbohydrates), you can reverse diabetes complications.

So Are the Carbs in Fruit Bad for You?

No, they’re not. The natural carbohydrates in fruit are long-chain carbohydrates that come prepackaged with fiber and micronutrients, which take a long time to digest and absorb, providing a steady uptake of glucose into tissues.

These natural carbohydrates are often confused with added sugars like fructose and artificial sweeteners, when in reality they’re very different. Since these artificial sweeteners lack the high nutrient and fiber content, they’re broken down quickly and absorbed directly into your blood.

This is what can spike your blood glucose (blood sugar levels), and prevent a dangerous risk to people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which is why experts like the American Diabetes Association recommend avoiding added sugars completely.

Now, fruits packed with grams and grams of carbohydrate can spike your blood glucose just like any other high-nutrient food, so if you’re having a very hard time controlling your blood glucose we recommend plants like leafy greens instead.

However, in the long term, these fruits can be the foundation of a high-energy, easily manageable diabetes diet, and include numerous health benefits that we’ll touch on below.

Health Benefits of Fruit for Type 2 Diabetes

For those living with a very high degree of insulin resistance, some fruits can make it challenging to stay in range after a fruit-based meal.

But as you adapt to a higher percentage of fruits (along with other plants and whole foods), these natural sources of sugars can be the foundation of diet with low long-term health risks, easy-to-control blood glucose, and numerous beneficial nutrients.

Unsure of your level of insulin resistance? Take our 60-second quiz now.

Lower Risk of Complications

In most cases, fruits are something you can eat ad libitum, or as much as you want with no risk of long term chronic diseases. In fact, the research shows that they improve your long term health, including as a method of diabetes management and weight loss treatment for obesity.

These results have been proven time and time again, and have also been shown to reduce your risk for a number of different conditions.

This isn’t true for meats and processed foods, which can increase your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and all cause mortality.

More Predictable Blood Glucose (Blood Sugar) Levels

As we mentioned above, fruits provide a steady and consistent source of energy that your liver, muscles, and brain process over a longer period of time than added sugars.

In the long run, this makes it easier to manage your blood glucose and maintain a good time in range, because the increase and decreases will happen over a longer, more steady period of time.

Rich Source of Nutrients

All of these health benefits are without even getting into the specific nutrient values of different fruits. Obviously, every fruit is different, from the super-powerful amla berry to less nutrient-dense fruits like watermelon.

However, most fruits have a few things in common:

Glycemic Index of Fruits

Caption: Image provided by www.goqii.com

Another slightly misunderstood reference that turns some people away from fruit is the glycemic index, which measures the ‘glycemic load’ of a food, or how much it will raise your blood glucose levels after eating it.

The glycemic index is a good indication of how energy-dense foods are which can be helpful in planning out your pre or post meal insulin, but they’re not a perfect system for planning out healthy eating.

For example, fruits that are high in carbohydrates, whole grain foods, and starchy vegetables tend to be higher on the glycemic index, however they don’t spike your blood glucose if you eat them in combination with other fiber-rich foods, allowing you to eat them in abundance as part of a very healthy, low risk diet.

On the other hand, sodas, added sugars, and processed foods have a higher glycemic index, but can be absolutely disastrous for your long term health.

In essence, the glycemic index is a great tool for understanding your blood glucose and staying in range, but it shouldn’t dictate your entire dietary strategy.

Best Fruits for Diabetics

Our recommendations for fruits are pretty simple. As long as they’re natural, whole foods, eat them as much as you want, in as large quantities as you want. Whole fruit, fresh fruits, high-fiber fruits like apples and bananas, blackberries, grapefruit, kiwi, dragon fruit — whatever you like!

In the long, term you’ll see the difference.

Now, if you have severe insulin resistance or struggle with fluctuating blood glucose, we recommend earning your ability to eat fruits high on the glycemic index by eating a diet containing as much low glycemic plant material as possible for a few weeks first.

Once you have gained a significant amount of insulin sensitivity, then begin increasing your intake of higher glycemic fruits and your blood glucose is unlikely to spike in the post-meal state.

For a full list of our recommendations, you can check our list of the best fruits for people with diabetes.

Worst Fruits for Diabetics

This is a bit of a misnomer, since the problem for people with diabetes isn’t the fruits themselves (even watermelon, the antithesis of the low GI strategy). Instead, the problem is what is added to some fruits.

Some things are advertised as fruits, but are actually full of processed sugars and chemicals, and we recommend avoiding these whenever possible. For example, be wary of:

  • Canned fruit
  • Fruit juice
  • Dried fruit
  • Processed Fruit
  • Fruit ‘flavored’ foods

In any serving size, these foods tend to be closer to candies than whole foods, and run counter to the health benefits of fruit in the first place!

Diabetes Diet and Fruit: The Bottom Line

For almost everyone, fruit is an incredibly healthy food that can be the foundation of any meal plan, whether you’re looking simply to reach/maintain a healthy weight or aiming for a more comprehensive strategy of diabetes management.

However, if you’re currently having a hard time keeping your blood glucose in a healthy range, it may be a good idea to work with your doctor and a registered dietitian.

This way, you can get a good idea of how many grams of carbs and servings of fruit to integrate into your diet as you work towards reversing insulin resistance.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use fruit, as well as a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet to manage and potentially reverse diabetes, explore our Weekly Meal Plan. You’ll discover how to eat a wide variety of dishes containing delicious fruit while keeping your blood glucose in range as much as possible.

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About the author 

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD is a New York Times bestselling co-author of Mastering Diabetes: The Revolutionary Method to Reverse Insulin Resistance Permanently in Type 1, Type 1.5, Type 2, Prediabetes, and Gestational Diabetes. He is the co-founder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green, and is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. He co-created the Mastering Diabetes Method to reverse insulin resistance in all forms of diabetes, and has helped more than 10,000 people improve their metabolic health using low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition, intermittent fasting, and exercise. Cyrus earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-author of many peer-reviewed scientific publications. He is the co-host of the annual Mastering Diabetes Online Summit, a featured speaker at the Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the American College of Lifestyle Medicine Conference (ACLM), Plant Stock, the Torrance Memorial Medical Center, and has been featured on The Doctors, NPR, KQED, Forks Over Knives, Healthline, Fast Company, Diet Fiction, and the wildly popular podcasts the Rich Roll Podcast, Plant Proof, MindBodyGreen, and Nutrition Rounds. Scientific Publications: Sarver, Jordan, Cyrus Khambatta, Robby Barbaro, Bhakti Chavan, and David Drozek. “Retrospective Evaluation of an Online Diabetes Health Coaching Program: A Pilot Study.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, October 15, 2019, 1559827619879106. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827619879106 Shrivastav, Maneesh, William Gibson, Rajendra Shrivastav, Katie Elzea, Cyrus Khambatta, Rohan Sonawane, Joseph A. Sierra, and Robert Vigersky. “Type 2 Diabetes Management in Primary Care: The Role of Retrospective, Professional Continuous Glucose Monitoring.” Diabetes Spectrum: A Publication of the American Diabetes Association 31, no. 3 (August 2018): 279–87. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0024 Thompson, Airlia C. S., Matthew D. Bruss, John C. Price, Cyrus F. Khambatta, William E. Holmes, Marc Colangelo, Marcy Dalidd, et al. “Reduced in Vivo Hepatic Proteome Replacement Rates but Not Cell Proliferation Rates Predict Maximum Lifespan Extension in Mice.” Aging Cell 15, no. 1 (February 2016): 118–27. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12414 Roohk, Donald J., Smita Mascharak, Cyrus Khambatta, Ho Leung, Marc Hellerstein, and Charles Harris. “Dexamethasone-Mediated Changes in Adipose Triacylglycerol Metabolism Are Exaggerated, Not Diminished, in the Absence of a Functional GR Dimerization Domain.” Endocrinology 154, no. 4 (April 2013): 1528–39. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2011-1047 Price, John C., Cyrus F. Khambatta, Kelvin W. Li, Matthew D. Bruss, Mahalakshmi Shankaran, Marcy Dalidd, Nicholas A. Floreani, et al. “The Effect of Long Term Calorie Restriction on in Vivo Hepatic Proteostatis: A Novel Combination of Dynamic and Quantitative Proteomics.” Molecular & Cellular Proteomics: MCP 11, no. 12 (December 2012): 1801–14. https://doi.org/10.1074/mcp.M112.021204 Bruss, Matthew D., Airlia C. S. Thompson, Ishita Aggarwal, Cyrus F. Khambatta, and Marc K. Hellerstein. “The Effects of Physiological Adaptations to Calorie Restriction on Global Cell Proliferation Rates.” American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 300, no. 4 (April 2011): E735-745. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00661.2010 Bruss, Matthew D., Cyrus F. Khambatta, Maxwell A. Ruby, Ishita Aggarwal, and Marc K. Hellerstein. “Calorie Restriction Increases Fatty Acid Synthesis and Whole Body Fat Oxidation Rates.” American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 298, no. 1 (January 2010): E108-116. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00524.2009