If you have prediabetes, it is important to take a good look at your diet to make sure you are eating in a way that best supports your health. But when deciding what foods to avoid and what foods to eat with prediabetes, it can get confusing. One area of confusion for many people is fruit. Fruit is high in nutrients, but it is also a natural source of sugar.
So is fruit good or bad for you? Is it okay to eat fruit if you have prediabetes?
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It turns out that fruit can actually help you prevent diabetes, as long as you make healthy choices regarding what kinds and how much you consume.
Fruit can actually lower diabetes risk
While some people are concerned about fruit because it contains sugar, eating fruit is actually associated with better health and lower risk for disease. Fruit gives us fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other important plant-based nutrients, all of which can support optimal body function.
The health benefits of eating fruit include preventing diabetes and blood sugar concerns. In fact, people who eat more fruit in their diets are less likely to get prediabetes than those who eat less fruit. If you already have prediabetes, eating healthy fruits may help you to control your blood sugars. One study, for example, found that prediabetics who ate more raspberries had lower blood sugar levels compared to those who didn’t eat raspberries at all.
And the best part is that there is substantial evidence suggesting that eating fruits regularly can also help to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.[3-6] According to findings of a 2020 study published in the journal BMJ, your risk of diabetes may go down by 25% for each additional 66 g of fruits and vegetables you eat each day. Higher fruit consumption can also lower the risk of serious complications in people who are already diabetic.
Fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples are particularly helpful for lowering diabetes risk. Fruit juice, on the other hand, increases your risk.
But what about the sugar?
Fruit in moderation should provide you with healthy nutrients that can actually help keep your body healthy and prevent health concerns. But fruit also has its downsides. You don’t want to be fooled into thinking you can eat as much fruit as you want without any consequences.
Fruit does contain sugar, and excess sugar is problematic when it comes to regulating blood sugars and maintaining good health. The sugar content in fruit is definitely something to be aware of when adding fruit into your healthy prediabetes diet.
As with most foods, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to fruit. If you eat a lot of fruit at once, you may consume too much sugar and spike your blood glucose levels above healthy limits
You don’t want to eat more fruit than recommended each day. For kids, that means about 1 to 1½ cups per day, and for adults it means about 2 cups. That equates to about one small apple (or ½ of a large one), one medium grapefruit, one medium pear, eight large strawberries, or 32 grapes.
It is important to realize that fruits aren’t often the main culprits when it comes to spiking blood sugar levels. Most of the time, the vast majority of the problem comes in the form of sweets, processed foods, sodas, refined carbohydrate products, and more. It is far more important to focus on limiting these unhealthy sources of carbohydrates and added sugars than it is to limit natural sugars from fruit.
So while you’ve got to watch your portion sizes with fruits to avoid excess sugar, if you are eating reasonable amounts you shouldn’t have to worry too much. You can enjoy fruit as a tasty, nutritious alternative to unhealthy options like candies and baked goods.
Making healthy fruit choices: what kind and how much
Do you want to take advantage of the nutrients and health benefits of fruit while staying away from too much sugar? To eat fruit responsibly, consider these tips:
- Remember your portion sizes. A healthy serving of fruit should be about the size of your palm. A small apple, a handful of berries, or a slice of watermelon are all good options.
- Opt for low-sugar fruits instead of high-sugar fruits. Fruits with higher sugar contents include melons, bananas, and pineapple. Dried fruits like raisins and fruit juices are also super high in sugar. Instead, choose berries, kiwi, apples, pear, or watermelon. Watermelon, for example, tastes surprisingly sweet for having just 10 g of sugar in one cup.[9,10]
- Focus on whole fruits, not dried or juiced fruits. Eating fruits whole means you get a lot of nutritious fiber, which helps slow down digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. Fruits with edible skins are particularly high in fiber. Limit or avoid fruit juice and dried fruit, which are much more concentrated in terms of sugar and carbohydrate content. For example, a small piece of whole fruit has about 15 grams of carbs, whereas only 2 tablespoons of dried fruit contain about 15 grams. If you do eat dried fruit or drink juice, realize that the healthy portion sizes are quite small, so you can only have a very small amount at a time.
- Eat the rainbow. The more color you can get in with your fruit selections the better. Think dark blue blueberries, green grapes, and bright red strawberries. The color will provide you with a variety of powerful nutrients and will make your food more fun and appealing.
- Pair fruit with a healthy source of protein and fat. The protein and fat will slow down digestion of the carbohydrates in your fruit to reduce a blood sugar spike. For example, add nuts or feta cheese to a fruit salad or eat an apple with nut butter. Learn more about how to prevent blood sugar spikes when eating carbs here.
- Choose fruit instead of dessert. If you need something a bit sweet and tasty for dessert or a special treat, fruit is definitely a healthy alternative to cakes, cookies, pies, or candy. A bowl of mixed berries is always a delicious (and colorful) option.
- Spread fruits out throughout the day. Instead of eating a ton of fruit at once, consider spacing it out. The less fruit you eat at once, the less likely you are to spike blood sugar levels.
- Always read labels. If you are choosing products like canned fruit, read the label. Look for options that say “unsweetened” or “no sugar added.”
Fruit with prediabetes: the bottom line
It’s okay to eat some fruit if you have prediabetes. In fact, fruit can actually provide you with nutrients and reduce your diabetes risk.
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The key is to pay attention to how much you are eating and what kind of fruit you are eating to make sure you avoid unhealthy blood sugar spikes. Whole fruits are best, especially fruits like berries and apples, while dried fruit and fruit juice should be avoided completely.
If you are really wanting to improve your health and reduce your diabetes risk, then you’ll need to look beyond fruit and to other important diet and lifestyle factors. Make sure to focus on other risk factors like being overweight, not being physically active, or eating a diet with lots of added sugars, and make healthy changes to improve your health now.