Can diabetics eat cherries? And if so, what kind of cherries: sour, sweet, fresh, canned, juiced? Contrary to popular belief, diabetics generally can and should eat raw cherries, sweet and sour, and several other fruits as they hold good nutrition and contribute to better overall health and weight management. Cherries have a low glycemic index and don’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels if consumed in limited amounts. However, canned cherries, cherry pie, marinated cherries or cherry juice (especially if it has added sugars) are best avoided with diabetes. Just as important, how much cherries can diabetics eat depends on their current state of health, weight and dietary habits. Not everyone with diabetes can eat the same amounts of cherries and some shouldn’t really include them in their diet without making some serious dietary changes first.
Why are cherries good for diabetes? There are several reasons why you should eat cherries and similar foods in modest amounts if you have diabetes. And these reasons are:
1) Cherries have a low glycemic index. The main reason why cherries are good for diabetes is because they have a low glycemic index. What this means is that, even though they have plenty of sugar, they don’t cause spikes in blood sugar, but rather raise blood sugar levels slowly and steadily. This is owed partly to their good dietary fiber content, 100 g of raw cherries with pits providing 2.1 g of fiber.
However, it’s important to not eat too much at once or too frequently as the sugar eventually accumulates, resulting in high blood sugar levels and complications for diabetes.
Sour cherries on the other hand have less fiber, approximately 1.6 g of dietary fiber per 100 g of fruits with pits. They also have a low glycemic index, which means you can eat sour cherries with diabetes, but keep to modest amounts.
Aside from cherries, the best fruits for diabetes are apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, berries (blueberries, red, yellow and black raspberries, blackberries, red, white and black currants, strawberries), bananas, grapes, kiwifruit, oranges, mandarins, tangerine, lime, lemon, yuzu or myrobalan plums, also called cherry plums (see Properties and Benefits of Cherry Plums).
It’s important to remember to eat modest amounts and choose fruits you can eat with skin and pulp. Overall, the best fruits for diabetes are those with a low glycemic index or moderately low glycemic index.
2) Moderate sugar content. Types of cherries and cherry preparations and their sugar content.
Raw sweet cherries: 12.82 g of sugars/100 g
Raw red sour cherries: 8.49 g of sugars/100 g
Maraschino cherries (canned, drained): 38.77 g of sugar/100 g
Acerola and pitanga/surinam cherry: 0 g of sugar
Canned sweet cherries, packed in water: 10.26 g of sugar/100 g
Packed in heavy syrup: 16.18 g of sugar/100 g
Dried, sour cherries (sweetened): 67.15 g of sugar/100 g
Canned sour cherries, packed in water: 7.6 g of sugar/100 g
Packed in heavy syrup: 22.7 g of sugar/100 g
Cherry jam: 45 to 65 g of sugar/100 g
If you have diabetes and want to eat cherries, then it would appear that it’s better to eat the fresh fruit and not exceed 100-150 g per serving. Consider the weight of the whole fruit (skin, pulp and pits) when measuring portion size. Pitted cherries will provide a lot more sugar compared to whole cherries for the same amount (naturally, you get more sugar-containing pulp and juice in pitted fruit). You can consider eating sour cherries instead of sweet ones as you get less sugar, but keep to a similar, small portion size. Sour acerola cherries are a good option as they have no actual sugar (just carbohydrates) and so are orange pitanga or surinam cherries (not the dark red and black varieties which have plenty of sugar).
Be careful: not all cherry varieties are the same! Variety (cultivar), processing into various products, ripeness or lack of are factors that make some cherries better for diabetes than others.
Sugar content in different cultivars. Different varieties of the same species are cultivated with the purpose of obtaining fruit with specific characteristics. And one of the most desirable characteristics is a sweet taste. So it may help if you taste different varieties to see which is the sweetest and which is less.
Sugar content in sweet vs sour cherries. Sweet cherries have more sugar than tart or sour cherries. See more of their wonderful benefits in Properties and Benefits of Sour Cherries.
Sugar content in ripe vs unripe cherries. Unripe cherries have more complex, indigestible carbohydrates. But as the fruits ripen, part of those complex, indigestible carbohydrates turns into sugar. As a result, ripe cherries have a lot more sugar than unripe ones. Overripe ones are richest in sugar. Also see Unripe vs Ripe Fruit: Nutritional Differences.
You can tell how ripe a fruit is based on color and texture: the ripe and overripe fruits are darker red in color, often with brown spots and also softer, more easily digestible (they don’t need much chewing). In general, yellow-red, orange-red and bright red cherries are better for diabetes than dark red ones.
Processing. The fresh fruit is always better than the juice and dried fruit. The fresh fruit is an optimal source of vitamins, minerals, sugar, fiber and other nutrients. The juice lacks the skin and pulp which contain the fiber and has more sugar so it can raise blood sugar levels pretty quickly. Dried cherries may also contain added sugars (especially true for sour varieties), food coloring and various chemicals. Not to mention that it’s hard to control portions of juice or dried fruits and most people just eat too much of them. Also read Is It Healthier To Eat Fruits or Drink Fruit Juice?
Diabetes and weight status. When you have diabetes, weight is an important indicator of health status and can determine what you can and cannot eat and in what amounts. So if you are severely overweight or suffering from obesity, then you need to remove some problematic foods from your diet before introducing new ones. It doesn’t matter if the new foods are healthy; at one point, nutrients such as carbohydrates and fats and calories will accumulate to the point they will add to the weight gain and contribute to complications. So before introducing cherries or other foods into your diet, it’s best to remover problematic foods which may include high-carbohydrate, high-sugar, high-fat, fried and processed foods. Also, if you are having weight problems, choose fresh fruits and avoid juices, canned and dried fruits.
Other benefits of cherries for diabetes include:
1) Low fat content and moderate energetic value (63 kcal/100 g); good for weight management.
2) Moderate source of vitamin C, vitamins B5 and B6, with benefits for immunity, digestion, energy metabolism, weight management and skin.
3) Contain small amounts of potassium for regulating blood pressure and other minerals (iron, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus) with an energizing, revitalizing, tonic effect.
4) Important source of antioxidants with benefits for multiple systems and organs.
Side effects. Possible side effects range from weight gain and spikes in blood sugar (if you eat too much) to allergic reactions. If you experience tingling sensations in the lips, tongue, back of the throat, itching in the mouth or throat, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, drop in blood pressure, sweating or hives, seek medical help immediately. It is possible you are experiencing an allergic reaction.
Conclusion: Cherries and diabetes overview. Diabetics can eat cherries and other fruits safely as long as they enjoy small portions (100-150 g) and do not exceed individually recommended sugar, carbohydrate and calorie values. Cherries don’t destroy, cure or eliminate diabetes so it doesn’t help to eat more. On the contrary: there will be side effects if you eat too much fruit in general. You can spread your intake of fruits over the course of the entire day to reduce the risks of blood sugar spikes. Fresh fruit are always better for diabetes than juices, canned or dried fruit. It’s important to get cherries from organic agriculture and choose low-sugar varieties (you can tell by tasting them). If eating cherries makes you feel sick, then stop and see your doctor for advice. With diabetes, always consider your individual tolerance to fruits and sugar to determine how much of what foods you can eat.