Can I Eat Apples if I Have Diabetes?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on September 23, 2016Written by Jerisha Parker Gordon on September 23, 2016
apples and diabetes

The basics

If you have diabetes, you know that choosing a healthy snack isn’t always as easy as reaching into the fruit bowl. Many fruits are loaded with natural sugars, which count as carbohydrates. If you’re counting carbs to manage your blood sugar levels, it’s important to know just how much you’re eating. Keep reading to learn how adding apples to your diet may impact you.

The health benefits of apples

There’s a reason people say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Cultivated worldwide, this fruit is high in fiber and vitamin C. These nutrients are primarily found in the skin, so be sure to eat that part.

Apples also contain small amounts of:

  • vitamin A
  • calcium
  • iron

Because they’re high in fiber, consistent apple consumption can have a positive impact on your digestive system and help keep waste moving out of your body more regularly.

Although apples are a smart choice for almost everyone, they’re especially valuable in a diabetes-friendly diet. This is because fresh apples are:

  • fat-free
  • cholesterol-free
  • sodium-free
  • high in fiber

Apples also contain natural antioxidants called polyphenols. These are found in both the skin and the meat of the apple, so there’s no missing them. These antioxidants can help:

  • the body protect itself against disease
  • slow down the effects of aging
  • with weight management
  • promote bone health

What the research says

Although most research doesn’t directly discuss the role of apples in diabetes management, there’s evidence to suggest that it can reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications.

According to a 2004 review, eating apples may decrease your risk of certain chronic diseases. For example, many of the phytochemicals found in apples have strong antioxidant and anticancer properties. Apple consumption may also help lower cholesterol, which may explain why apples have been linked with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.

Adults who have diabetes are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Because of this, the American Diabetes Association views diabetes as one of seven controllable risk factors for heart disease.

Over 9,000 Finnish men and women participated in a 2000 study assessing the potential health impact of eating an apple a day. All over the age of 15, the participants were initially free of cardiovascular disease. Researchers followed up with the participants over the course of 28 years to assess their dietary habits and overall health profile.

The results suggest that regular apple consumption is tied to a decreased risk of thrombotic stroke. This type of stroke is associated with cerebral vascular disease, which is common in people with diabetes.

More research is needed to determine additional benefits or risks associated with apple consumption.

Where do apples fall on the glycemic index?

The glycemic index (GI) ranks foods on a 1 to 100 scale based on how fast the food enters the bloodstream, which can impact your blood sugar management. These ranks are determined by how each food compares to a reference item, such as sugar or white bread.

This approach is typically used by people who are carbohydrate counting to manage their diabetes. Foods with a high GI generally raise your blood sugar more than foods with a low or medium GI.

A low GI is 55 or less. A medium GI is generally considered to be 55 to 69. A high GI is 70 or higher.

A medium-sized apple has a GI of about 37, which falls under the “low” category. If you prefer to slice up and measure out your apples, an apple of this size weighs about 138 grams.

The glycemic load (GL) is the combination of how fast the glucose enters the bloodstream and the carbohydrate content of the serving. This glycemic load value gives the whole picture of how the food might impact your blood sugar level. An apple ranks as a 5 on the glycemic load scale. Values under 10 are low and values above 20 are classified as high.

What are other diabetes-friendly fruits?

If you find that you tire of eating apples all the time, there are plenty of other fruit options to choose from. Although fresh fruit is generally your best bet, you can typically add fruit that has been frozen to your diet as long as there aren’t any added sugars.

Canned fruit, whether in a juice or light syrup, dried fruit, and fruit juice may raise your blood sugar higher than fresh or frozen fruit.

Here are a few diabetes-friendly fruits low on the GI:

  • five whole apricots have a GI of 34 and a GL of 5
  • one small pear has a GI of 37 and a GL of 4
  • one medium orange has a GI of 40 and a GL of 4
  • one small to medium nectarine has a GI of 43 and a GL of 5

Check out: Can you eat bananas if you have diabetes? »

What does this mean for my diabetes care?

As long as you monitor your diet and see your doctor regularly for checkups, it should be OK to add apples to your diet. Not only are apples a delicious snack, regular consumption will likely have a positive impact on your health.

As you add apples to your diet, make sure you keep track of these dietary changes and any side effects that you may experience. If you notice any unusual changes in your blood sugar levels, be sure to call your doctor and discuss your concerns.

If you’re unsure of how to add apples to your diet or how this will affect your body, consult your doctor in advance. They may refer you to a dietitian who can help you determine proper portions and recommend recipes that will fit your lifestyle.

Keep reading: How to manage diabetes with a carbohydrate-friendly diet »

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