Not only do sweet, juicy oranges taste good, but they also offer a range of health benefits — high in fiber and vitamin C, void of salt and fat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But they have some sugar. So, if you have type 2 diabetes, should you eat or avoid this marvel?
Yes, people with diabetes can enjoy oranges, says Vandana R. Sheth, RDN, CDE, a dietitian and diabetes educator in Torrance, California, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The key is to count it as part of your overall intake of carbohydrates," she says.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't produce enough insulin or can't effectively use the insulin that it does produce, explains the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Insulin is a hormone that is made in your pancreas. Many foods that you eat have carbohydrates, and insulin allows your body to use the carbohydrates for energy or store it for later use. That's why choosing the right foods is so key to managing your type 2 diabetes, the ADA says.
Fruit can and should be a part of your daily diet if you have type 2 diabetes, Sheth says. Fresh fruit or a fruit salad can be a great dessert, the ADA suggests. Not only will it satisfy your sweet tooth, but fruit also provides fiber, vitamins and minerals that people with type 2 diabetes need in their diets.
Soluble fiber, the type found in citrus fruit, like oranges, also can help lower blood sugar and glucose levels, says Mayo Clinic. An average orange has about 2.4 grams of fiber, the USDA reports.
Oranges and Diabetes Diets
Counting carbs is one way for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar because carbohydrates turn into sugar (glucose) in your body, explains the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). An average-size orange has about 11 grams of carbohydrates, according to the USDA.
If you're counting carbs to determine how much you can eat in a day, you can count that orange as one serving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guideline that one serving of carbs is about 15 grams. At each meal, most women need three to four carb servings, while most men need four to five carb servings, notes the CDC.
Some people with type 2 diabetes plan what they eat based on the food's glycemic load, or where it falls on the glycemic index (GI). That index identifies, based on a 0 to 100 score, how much the food raises your blood's glucose or sugar level, the ADA explains. The higher a food's GI number, the more it raises your blood sugar. Most fruit, including oranges, are considered low-glycemic foods, the ADA says.
No matter what method you use to control your blood sugar, it's best to pair a "tennis-ball-sized" orange with some nuts or string cheese or other lean protein, Sheth says. "This combination of carbs and proteins will help minimize the quick spike that could happen if you have an orange by itself," she says.
Portion Sizes and Juice
Sheth also says that, when considering oranges or any fruit for that matter, people with diabetes should consider portion size. That's because even fruit can be too much if you eat it like it's candy or popcorn and overdo it. "I encourage my diabetes clients to be sure to include fruits that are higher in fiber, such as raspberries, blackberries, pears, etc., in their diets and to always remember to pair them with a lean protein option to blunt the blood sugar response," Sheth says.
But, what about OJ? Can someone with diabetes get the same benefits from a glass of orange juice as from an orange?
The British Diabetic Association says drinking orange juice and fruit smoothies should be an occasional thing if you have diabetes, and one small glass at a time is best. Whole fruit is always better, it says, because juice may lack fiber and contain way more calories due to additives that make it taste good. The association also suggests this trick if you love a good smoothie: Water it down.
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Oranges”
- Vandana R. Sheth, RDN, CDE, dietitian, diabetes educator, Torrance, California, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- American Diabetes Association: “The Path to Understanding Diabetes Starts Here”
- American Diabetes Association: “Fruit”
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- British Diabetic Association: “Fruit Juices and Smoothies”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Diabetes and Carbs”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases