Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of any healthy diet. Yes, even if you have diabetes.

“There are plenty of good reasons not to be afraid of fruit,” explains Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian based at Medcan in Toronto. “It’s a great source of fibre, potassium, vitamin C and folate – all nutrients shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.”

What’s more, research published in the journal Nature last year reported that eating fruits and vegetables lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease in people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Additional studies have further shown that eating fruit – especially apples, grapes and blueberries – may help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place.

Here are a few smart, simple ways to reap all the health benefits of fruit while maintaining a diabetes-friendly diet:

Stick to fresh or frozen fruits

If you make a beeline for fresh fruit when you’re at the grocery store, you’re on the right track: Fresh and frozen fruits – your best options when you live with diabetes – do not contain any added sugar. Canned fruit can work, too, says Beck, so long as you choose varieties packed in water or juice over those canned in syrup.

Skip the juice aisle, however. Juice lacks the fibre that keeps you feeling full between meals. And proceed with caution when shopping for dried fruit. Some varieties, particularly cranberries, are sweetened with sugar, Beck notes.  

Eat fruits that help fight diabetes

There’s room for all your fave fruits in a balanced diet. If you want a little diabetes-fighting boost, though, Beck recommends the following options:

  • Cherries and berries. These superfruits are rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which studies show may help with blood sugar control.
  • Oranges, strawberries, mangoes and cantaloupe. These tasty choices are high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. And because some data suggests people with diabetes may have increased cellular turnover of vitamin C, it’s important to include good sources in your diet to prevent possible deficiency, Beck says.
  • These little powerhouses come packed with dietary fibre, which helps keep you feeling full and stabilizes your blood sugar.

Learn the recommended serving sizes

Practising portion control allows you to enjoy all the foods you love and still manage your blood sugar – and fruit is no exception. Standard portion sizes differ a little from fruit to fruit, so become familiar with the appropriate servings of your favourites.

Pay particular attention to portion sizes when enjoying dried fruit, which is more carb- and calorie-dense. Beck advises limiting dried-fruit portions to two tablespoons. Try using dried fruit as an accent instead of the main ingredient: Add unsweetened dried apple to a spinach salad, for example, or stir dried apricots into your Greek yogurt.

Choose low-glycemic index fruits

Including foods with a low glycemic index (GI) in meals can help control your blood sugar: Low-GI meals have a gradual impact on your blood sugar rather than triggering blood sugar and insulin spikes as high-GI meals do. Most fruits already have a low glycemic index, with three exceptions: raisins, dates and watermelon.

Higher-GI fruits don’t need to be off-limits, but you should combine them with low-GI foods to moderate their impact on your blood sugar, advises Beck. Try savouring raisins as a topping for oatmeal rather than as a solo snack. Or serve watermelon for dessert after a balanced dinner, to better manage your blood sugar while enjoying the foods you love.