Fruit is nature's candy — naturally sweet, but also full of fiber and important nutrients. With so many flavors and varieties, it's a great choice to satisfy your sweet tooth while maintaining a healthy diet. If you have diabetes, you've probably been told to limit sweets and sugar and to substitute a piece of fruit instead. Fresh fruit is always a good option to include in your meal plan, but where does dried fruit fit in if you're limiting carbs or sugar?
Dried fruit can be part of a healthy diet even if you have diabetes, as long as you choose lower sugar fruits and watch your portion size.
Dried Fruit and Sugar Content
In terms of their macronutrient composition, both fresh and dried fruit are nearly 100 percent carbohydrate, most of which is in the form of fructose, or fruit sugar. Some fruit is higher in sugar than others. Because dried fruit is dehydrated, its natural fruit sugar is more concentrated compared to fresh fruit. The carbs in all types of fruits will cause your blood sugar to increase, but because it comes packaged with fiber, a serving of fruit doesn't usually raise your blood sugar as high as some other carbs.
Pay Attention to Portion Sizes
If you're counting carbs to manage your diabetes, or you're trying to follow a lower carb diet, it's important to keep your portion sizes of all fruits on the small side and try to choose the best types of dried fruits for diabetics. According to the American Diabetes Association, a serving or portion of fruit has about 15 grams of carbohydrate. A typical serving is one small piece or about one-half cup of whole, fresh fruit. The portion sizes of dried fruits, however, are much smaller because of their more concentrated fruit sugar.
Most dried fruits, like raisins, dates or figs, have about 15 grams of carbohydrates in just 2 tablespoons. Others, like apricots, are lower sugar fruits, so your portion size can be a bit larger. The USDA reports that a one-quarter cup serving of dried apricots has 18 grams of carbohydrates. That means, if you're trying to watch your carbs and stay between 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal, you can still enjoy some dried fruit.
Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index
When it comes to diabetes, blood sugar and dried fruit, there's more to the story than just carbs. It's also helpful to know what a fruit's glycemic index is. The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate foods on a scale of 0-100, according to how they affect your blood sugar. Foods that are digested very quickly cause a large spike in your blood sugar and have a higher glycemic index (over 75). Compared to candy, cookies or other sugary carbohydrate foods, fruits are digested more slowly, so they have less of an impact on blood sugar, and a lower glycemic index.
On the glycemic index scale, low glycemic foods are those with a glycemic index less than 55. For example, dried apricot's glycemic index is 30. While you still need to mind your portion size, low glycemic fruits like dried apricots can be eaten by diabetics, without worrying that they will spike your blood sugar.
Best Fruits for Diabetics
Because dried apricots are a low glycemic fruit, they're one of the best fruits for diabetics. However, you don't have to limit yourself to those. According to an April 2017 article published in the International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences, other good fruits for diabetics include dried apples, which have a glycemic index of 29, prunes, which have a glycemic index of 38 and dried peaches with a glycemic index of 35.
Dried fruits that have a higher sugar content and a higher glycemic index include dates, figs and raisins. Each of these has a glycemic index around 60 or greater. That doesn't mean you can't eat them, but you should be very careful to have only a small portion because they'll have more of an effect on your blood sugar.
Watch Out for Added Sugar
When looking for the best fruits for diabetics, keep in mind that many dried fruits have extra sugar added to them. This increases the sugar content and glycemic index even more. Dried cranberries, pineapples, strawberries and mangos are commonly prepared with added sugar. Always check the ingredients label, and steer clear of dried fruits with added sugar.
Pair Dried Fruit With Fat
One way to decrease a carbohydrate food's glycemic index, and its effect on your blood sugar, is to pair it with some healthy fat. Dietary fats slow your digestion, so the sugar in fruit is digested and absorbed even more slowly. Dried fruit pairs especially well with high-fat foods like cheese, nuts, seeds or unsweetened coconut. If you take a serving of dried fruit that's low in sugar, like apricots, and pair it with an ounce of cheese or a handful of nuts and seeds, you'll have a healthy snack that's easy on your blood sugar.
Enjoy the Health Benefits
Dried fruit provides the same nutrients as fresh fruit but in a smaller package. All dried fruits are great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals like potassium and iron and health-promoting phytochemicals. Some fruits like apricots and peaches are especially high in the antioxidant beta-carotene. Like grapes, raisins are very high in the polyphenol resveratrol.
In a July 2017 review on the beneficial effects of dried fruits and nuts on Type 2 diabetes published in the journal Nutrients, researchers from Spain identified dried fruits (and nuts) as a top dietary source of antioxidants. The researchers suggest that the antioxidants and phytochemicals in dried fruits can help those with diabetes by reducing insulin resistance, and also by protecting cells from inflammation.
Another interesting finding about dried fruit, and especially apricots, is that when they're eaten along with higher-glycemic foods, they can modify after-meal glucose levels. Results of a December 2018 study published in Nutrition & Diabetes showed that eating a low glycemic fruit like apricots along with high-glycemic index white bread reduced the glucose spike normally seen from white bread.
All in all, dried fruits are good for you, and they can be a great addition to your diet even if you have diabetes. As long as you're OK with the smaller portion size of dried fruits, you can safely eat lower-sugar fruits like apricots, prunes or dried apple slices and enjoy their many health benefits.
- American Diabetes Association: Fruits
- University of Sydney: About Glycemic Index
- International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences: Dry Fruits and Diabetes Mellitus
- USDA Food Composition Databases: Dried Apricots
- Nutrients: Nuts and Dried Fruits: An Update of Their Beneficial Effects on Type 2 Diabetes
- Nutrition & Diabetes: Effect of Dried Fruit on Postprandial Glycemia: A Randomized Acute-Feeding Trial