6 “Bad” Fruits to Eat When You Have Diabetes

Sigh … “Bad versus good foods”, here we go again. This black-and-white dichotomous thinking is one that nutrition experts are anxiously waiting to go out of style. Yet unfortunately, we are still combating the social media hype and reminding you yet again you can eat carbs, like fruit, even with diabetes. 

Believe us, we know it’s not your fault if you’ve fallen victim to this way of thinking about food, especially if you have diabetes. Being constantly bombarded with conflicting messages makes it confusing to know what to include and perhaps limit in your diet if you’re one of the 38.4 million Americans with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who need to monitor their blood sugars more closely.

Rest assured, we’ve done the homework for you and spoken to two certified diabetes educators and registered dietitian nutritionists to get their take on six fruits commonly perceived as off-limits if you have diabetes, and why they encourage their patients to eat them.

Why Is Fruit a Concern for Someone with Diabetes? 

First things first: fruit is a carbohydrate, one of the three macronutrients that we need to consume in our daily diets. Since carbohydrates provide fuel for the body and have a direct impact on blood sugar levels, they are often one of the first nutrients that health care practitioners advise you to pay closer attention to if you have diabetes.

Now, there are two kinds of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbs are digested more quickly then their complex-carb counterparts since they lack the fiber and other nutrients complex carbs contain. However, keep in mind that foods, such as fruit, often contain a mix of both simple and complex carbs. Fruit contains both a simple natural sugar (fructose), as well as a complex carb (fiber).

And that matters when it comes to your blood sugar. “Fruits often get a bad rap for people with diabetes due to their sugar content. However, it’s important to understand that while fruits do contain natural sugars, they also provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber; all of which can improve long-term health and fight against future disease,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet.

In fact, a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis of 23 cohort studies in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health concluded that high intake of fruit was associated with a 7% lower risk of diabetes compared to a low intake.

6 “Bad” Fruits That Should Be Included If You Have Diabetes

1. Avocado

While the low-fat diet trend may be losing steam, it’s important to note that if you have diabetes, you also have to watch your fat intake. Having diabetes doubles your risk of heart disease, says the CDC.

However, not all fats are created equal. For instance, avocado is a fruit that Palinski-Wade hears clients often fear because they worry the fruit contains too much fat. “This unique fruit can actually offer quite a few health benefits,” she says. “Unlike most other fruits, avocado contains 0 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving and does not affect your glycemic response.” 

Plus, it packs primarily unsaturated fatty acids, according to the USDA, the better-for-you fats that promote heart health. A 2019 clinical trial published in Nutrients found that including a half or whole avocado at breakfast decreased the participants’ glucose and insulin response when compared to a high-carb, low-fat breakfast. This study supports current 2023 research published in the Journal of Diabetes Mellitus that demonstrated Hispanic or Latino adults with prediabetes who consumed avocado in their regular diet were 14% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. For a nice dose of these healthy fats, try these Salmon Stuffed Avocados.

2. Banana

One of the most popular fruits to be named a “bad’ fruit for diabetes is the humble banana. However, don’t give in to this hype. “Unripened green bananas are a good source of resistant starch, a fiber that has been found to reduce blood glucose levels and fight against insulin resistance,” Palinski-Wade says. A 2023 review published in Frontiers in Nutrition found specific resistant starch types had a direct positive impact on both glucose and insulin regulation, though more research is needed. 

Don’t discount yellow bananas, though. “Although a more ripened banana will contain a higher sugar content and have a greater impact on blood sugar, this fruit still provides a good source of fiber to support gut health as well as appetite regulation,” she adds. 

As with all foods, portion size matters. Palinski-Wade recommends choosing a smaller banana, ideally one under 6 or 7 inches, for blood sugar balance and pairing it with a source of protein and/or healthy fats. Whip up one of these Diabetes-Friendly Banana Bread Recipes to have with breakfast today.

3. Mango

Tropical and delicious, mango is a mainstay in cultural cuisines across the board. While some have named mango as an off-limits food if you have diabetes, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Kimberley Francis, RDN, CDCES, CNSC, doesn’t agree. “One serving (3/4 cup) of mango provides 7% of your daily fiber needs. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which is ideal for glucose management,” she explains. 

A 2023 study published in Metabolism Open compared how fresh mango, dried mango and white bread affected participants’ satiety and glucose response after consumption. Interestingly, eating fresh mango increased satiety, decreased desire to eat and exhibited a more efficient decrease in glucose levels after eating, as well as more stable glucose levels overall in comparison to the dried mango and white bread. 

As for how to eat mangoes, “to create a balanced, blood-sugar-friendly meal, consider adding a serving of mangoes to a Cobb salad for a little extra sweetness,” suggests Francis. Or serve this Mango & Avocado Salad with dinner tonight.

4. Oranges

While orange juice may get a bad rap when it comes to its sugar content, Francis advises not to knock all forms of this fruit so quickly. “Oranges are famous for their vitamin C content, but one medium orange contains approximately 3 grams of fiber. Dietary fiber makes you feel full for an extended period and may help support weight and glucose management,” she explains.  

Plus, you can’t compare a whole orange to orange juice. That’s because juiced oranges contain almost no fiber. If you have diabetes, you may also consider pairing oranges with protein for a more stable blood sugar response, suggests Francis. For instance, add orange wedges alongside this Spinach-Mushroom Frittata.

5. Prunes

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to avoid dried fruit if you have diabetes. “People living with diabetes often think that dried fruits have too much sugar and need to be avoided, but that is actually not true. For instance, prunes contain no added sugar and are the lowest-sugar dried fruit. With 3 grams of naturally occurring fiber, prunes can support gut health along with blood sugar balance,” Palinski-Wade says. 

Plus, 2022 research published in Advances in Nutrition shows that daily consumption of prunes (also called dried plums) helps protect bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Palinski-Wade says this is “good news for people with diabetes, as they have a greater risk of osteoporosis.” Given prunes have no added sugar, consider using them to replace sugar in recipes for a sweet treat with an added nutritional bonus, like these Chocolate-Dipped Walnut-Stuffed Prunes.

6. Watermelon

While watermelon may taste incredibly sweet, it’s actually not all sugar. “One cup of diced watermelon contains 9 grams of naturally occuring sugar, which is less than the sugar content of 1 cup of sliced apples,” Palinski-Wade says. What’s more, the glycemic load—a measure of how quickly glucose enters your bloodstream and how much glucose it contains per serving, according to Harvard Medical School—of 1 cup of watermelon is only 5, which is low on the GL scale, she adds.

What’s more, watermelon also contains important antioxidants, like lycopene, that may benefit cardiovascular health, suggests a 2022 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Given those with diabetes are more likely to experience cardiovascular events related to their condition, it’s important to eat foods that positively impact heart health too when you have diabetes. Consider pairing watermelon with a source of protein or dietary fat to minimize impact on blood sugar levels, like this Watermelon Strawberry Smoothie, which contains low-fat plain yogurt.

The Bottom Line 

Fruit can (and should) be included in a balanced diet whether you have diabetes or not. While fruit does contain sugar, it also packs fiber, vitamins and minerals that can positively impact your health. Consider adding avocados, bananas, mango, oranges, prunes and watermelon into your meal plan, and pair them with other nutrient-rich foods for more stable blood sugar levels. Working with a certified diabetes expert or registered dietitian nutritionist is a great way to learn how to eat the foods you love, like fruit, in a balanced diet if you have diabetes.