Fragrant, fuzzy peaches. Juicy watermelon. Tart berries. There’s nothing like fresh-picked fruits available at a farmers market or produce stand near you.
If you have diabetes, you might be a little wary of nature’s candy. “But don’t be scared of fruit,” says registered dietitian Kim Pierce.
Here are 10 things to know about making fruit part of a diabetes-friendly diet.
Fruit is healthy
Yes, it’s a carbohydrate. And yes, the body processes carbs into sugars. But you need healthy carbs to fuel your brain and red blood cells, Pierce says.
Plus, fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. “Fruit contains nutrients that can lower your risk of cancer and heart disease,” she adds. “You should eat some every day.”
Fiber is your friend
Fruit does have natural sugars, but its high fiber content balances the sugars, Pierce explains. “Fiber slows down digestion. That helps us feel full longer and prevents spikes in blood sugar.”
Get your daily servings
Dietary guidelines recommend five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That’s true whether or not you have diabetes, Pierce says. Since fruits have more calories and sugar than veggies, try to strike a balance. She recommends breaking up your five servings into three veggie servings and two fruit servings.
Eat whole fruit
“All fruit is fair game, but fresh is best,” Pierce says.
Whole fresh or frozen fruits should be your go-to, since they’re full of fiber and other nutrients.
Processed fruits like applesauce and canned fruits can increase blood sugar more quickly. Dried fruits can also be healthy, Pierce says, but watch your portion size. Two tablespoons of raisins contain as many grams of carbohydrates as a small apple.
Check the label
As always, let nutrition labels be your guide. Avoid fruits canned in syrup, since syrup equals added sugar. Some dried and frozen fruits can also have sugar added, so read the fine print.
“Fruit juice has a lot of concentrated sugars without any fiber, so it can increase blood sugars quickly,” Pierce says. If you’re really craving juice, limit your portion to a half-cup serving.
Pay attention to portions
Fruit is healthy, but you still have to practice moderation, Pierce says. Try to space out your fruit throughout the day. (In other words, don’t eat an entire bag of grapes in one sitting.)
In general, one serving is a small- to medium-sized piece of whole fruit, or ¾ to 1 cup of fruit like melon or berries.
Choose smarter sweets
Fruit is a terrific option to satisfy a sweet tooth, says Pierce. One word of caution: If you’re craving something super-specific, like a brownie, it may be better to just eat a small piece of the chocolatey goodness. Otherwise, you might be circling back to fruits and other sweet things all day in a futile attempt to quash that craving.
Eat the rainbow
Different colors of fruits and vegetables have different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. To get all the good stuff, look for a ROYGBIV of fruits (and veggies) — from red strawberries to deep purple blackberries (and all the colors in between).
Ask the experts
Fruit is part of a healthy diet, but it’s always smart to get guidance from nutrition experts before you dive into a bowl of watermelon. “Check in with a diabetes educator or a registered dietitian to develop a healthy meal plan,” Pierce advises.
ROYGBIV refers to the colors of the rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.