Diabetes and fruit – yes or no?

Monday, 25 January 2021

Although we know fruit is good for us, people living with diabetes are often told they can’t eat fruit because they its too sweet or contains too much sugar. In truth, whole, fresh fruit is packed full of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making them a nutrient-dense food that can be part of a healthy diet when you are living with diabetes.

Eating fruit, as well as vegetables, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, as well as a lower risk of overweight and some cancers. Since people with diabetes are more at risk of developing heart disease, it makes it even more important to eat fruit and vegetables.

Should people with diabetes cut back on fruit?

You might think that the sugar content of fruit means that you should stay well away from it; however, the sugar in whole fruit is natural sugar rather than added sugar. It is the added sugars, such as those found in chocolate, lollies, cakes, biscuits and sugar sweetened drinks, that we need to cut down on. Fruit also generally has a low to medium glycaemic index (GI), which means they do not lead to a sharp rise in your blood glucose levels, compared to other high GI carbohydrate rich foods such white bread.

When it comes to fruit and the effects on your blood glucose levels, it is the portion size that plays an important role. On average, a portion or serve of fruit contains about 15-20g of carbohydrate, which is similar to a slice of bread or a 250mL glass of milk.  To put it into perspective, a slice of chocolate cake with no icing with a weight similar to a serve (150g) of fruit contains about 58g of carbohydrates, while a 375mL can of soft drink has about 40g of carbohydrates.

What is a serve of fruit?

A standard serve is about 150g or

  • 1 medium size – apple, banana, orange or pear
  • 2 small pieces – apricots, plums or kiwi fruits
  • 1 cup – diced fresh or canned fruits (drained)

Or choose only occasionally:

  • 125ml (1/2 cup) – fruit juice (no added sugar)
  • 30g dried fruit (e.g. 4 dried apricots halves or 1 ½ tbsp sultanas)

As a general rule, it is recommended to have two serves of fruit each day.

Fibre and more… 

The skin of the fruit is full of fibre so eating the whole fruit will maximise your fibre intake. This is important to help maintain your blood glucose levels. We generally need to get about 25g to 30g of fibre each day. Fruits are also full of vitamins and minerals – bananas have potassium which is good for heart health and blood pressure, and berries are loaded with antioxidants that can help protect your cells. Pears are also high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory benefits that can help to reduce risk such as heart disease. Pear skin can contain at least three to four times more phytonutrients than the flesh itself.

Why do I need to be mindful of fruit juices?

Ideally fruit juices or smoothies should be limited. This is because most of the fibre has been removed, meaning it is more easily absorbed and you can consume a large quantity quickly. Ultimately this not only means extra energy (kilojoules) but also a spike in your blood glucose levels. Fruit juices and smoothies are not as beneficial as eating whole fresh fruits.

What are the best choices?

The best choices of fruit are any that are fresh, frozen or tinned without added sugars. If you are choosing tinned fruit, look for ‘unsweetened’, ‘no added sugar’ or in ‘natural juices’ and, preferably, drain the liquid off before eating.

What else do I need to know?

  • Fruit has a different mix of nutrients, so it is important to have a variety to get in more goodness.
  • Be mindful of dried fruits as they can provide quite a concentrated source of carbohydrate. When overeaten they may cause a spike in your blood glucose levels.

 

By Michelle Tong APD, CDE

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes