Keeping your blood sugar within target range remains a cornerstone of diabetes treatment. This involves monitoring and managing your carbohydrate intake. The American Diabetes Association encourages fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain foods as healthful sources of dietary carbohydrates. Cherries are a flavorful, versatile, healthful option for people living with diabetes. As with any carbohydrate-rich food, it's important to take into account portion size when incorporating cherries into your diet to avoid a blood sugar spike.
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Sugars in Cherries
Like all fruits, cherries contain natural sugars. Glucose is the most abundant sugar in cherries, followed by fructose. The concentration of sugar in cherries ranges from 8 to 20 percent, depending on the variety and ripeness. As you probably suspect, sweeter varieties of cherries have a higher concentration of sugar than more tart varieties. For example, a cup of fresh sweet cherries contains approximately 16 g of sugars, compared to 13 g in sour cherries.
Glycemic Index Ranking
The glycemic index (GI) reflects the effect of a carbohydrate-containing food on blood sugar level. The higher the GI value of a food, the more it tends to raise the blood sugar level. The GI value for fresh sour cherries is 22, making them a low GI food. When eaten in appropriate portions, low GI foods are unlikely to significantly raise blood sugar level. Fresh sweet cherries rank 62 on the GI scale, making them a medium GI food. This means sweet cherries are more likely to raise your blood sugar, but usually only modestly.
Cherries contain a variety of healthful nutrients. They are rich in vitamin C, making them a good option if you're looking for an alternative to citrus fruits to obtain this vitamin. Cherries also contain significant amounts of vitamin A, which is present in higher concentration in sour cherries compared to sweet cherries. All varieties of cherries provide significant amounts of potassium. Other minerals present in lesser concentrations include phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and iron. Additionally, cherries are a good source of antioxidants, including quercetin and ellagic acid. Antioxidants neutralize chemicals called free radicals. People with diabetes tend to have excess free radicals that might contribute to development of diabetes complications, so antioxidant-rich foods are particularly good dietary choices.
As with other fruits and vegetables, fresh whole cherries are the most nutritious choice. However, a 2016 report from the Environmental Working Group ranks cherries as among the 12 types of produce with the highest concentration of pesticides. Choosing organic cherries avoids this exposure, if available. Washing nonorganic fresh cherries can also be helpful.
When cherries are out of season, frozen cherries without added sugars are a good substitute for fresh cherries. Dried cherries are another option, although the portion size needs to be reduced due to the high concentration of sugars. It's best to avoid canned cherries packed with added sugar. Other than for a garnish, maraschino and candied cherries are not healthful choice as they are heavily processed and contain high levels of added sugar.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.