Yes, you can eat oranges with diabetes, but in limited amounts, as part of an overall clean, balanced and varied diet tailored to your individual nutritional requirements and the restrictions of your condition. The main goal with diabetes is to limit carbohydrate intake per day and per meal in view of enjoying steadier blood sugar levels throughout the day. The main benefits of oranges for diabetes include a moderate carbohydrate and sugar content and a good fiber content which contribute to a low glycemic index. A low glycemic index means eating moderate amounts of the fruit has minimal effects on blood sugar metabolism which is a desirable outcome for the diabetic patient.
There are several different varieties of oranges, from navel oranges to blood oranges or mandarin oranges. All of them have slightly variable nutritional profiles but, fortunately for the diabetic person, they are also similar enough to be used interchangeably in a diabetic diet. If you are a diabetic and are considering introducing citrus fruit into your diet, remember that:
1) Only fresh, raw, unprocessed oranges and other citrus fruits are best for diabetes. Grapefruit might not be good for diabetes at all. See Can You Eat Grapefruit With Diabetes?
2) It’s always wise to start off with small amounts to see how eating oranges affects blood sugar levels.
3) One serving a day is sufficient and you can spread that one serving throughout the entire day to further reduce the impact of the fruit on blood sugar levels. Also, you may not want to eat it everyday either.
4) Eat the whole fruit except the rind. More specifically, eat the pulp and the white pith (or albedo). Those are where the fiber is and they are the parts of the orange that help slow down sugar absorption.
5) It’s better to avoid eating fruits on an empty stomach. Instead, have your fruit after a light protein, low-carbohydrate meal. Sources of protein and fat slow down the absorption of sugar from the fruit into the bloodstream and minimize effects on blood sugar levels.
6) Exercise after eating fruit of any kind. This helps burn the sugar from the fruit and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Take a walk outside, go for a run or a bike ride, anything that you can do, do it.
7) Remember that no food is universally healthy so if you feel sick or weak or strange after eating oranges or other citrus fruit, discontinue consumption and see your doctor.
Oranges and diabetes are a relatively good pair, most of the time at least, if consumed in limited amounts and paired with the right foods in the right way. The citrus fruit is not an excessive source of carbohydrates (or simple sugars), has a decent amount of dietary fiber to slow down rises in blood sugar levels and a low glycemic index and glycemic load which further provide benefits for blood sugar metabolism. Just as important, oranges are a great source of vitamin C which boosts immunity and helps with wound healing, a major issue for many diabetics.
Carbohydrate and sugar content of oranges: 100 g of raw oranges has an average of 11.75 g of carbohydrates of which 9.35 g are simple sugars and the rest of 2.4 g dietary fiber (estimate value for all commercial varieties).
One large fruit (estimated weight: 184 g) has 21.62 g of carbohydrates of which 16.83 g are simple sugars and 4.3 g dietary fiber.
Overall, the carbohydrate and sugar content of oranges is not excessive, but not low either, so there is need for moderation for those with diabetes.
Actually, the fruit has about the same content of sugar as pears (9.75 g/100 g of fruit), plums (9.92 g), apples (10.4 g) and less than bananas (12.23 g), cherries (12.82 g) and grapes (15-16 g).
Oranges glycemic index value: 40 (low). The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures how fast the carbohydrates in a plant food raise blood sugar levels. Below 55 is a low GI. Between 55-69 is a moderate GI. Between 70-100 is a high GI. Diabetics are recommended to choose plant foods with the lowest possible GI for better blood sugar metabolism.
All commercial varieties of oranges have a low glycemic index estimated at around 40. This means that eating a small serving of the fresh fruit should have minimal effects on blood sugar levels and not cause fluctuations with highs and lows. This is partly owed to the good dietary fiber content of the fruit (2.4 g of fiber/100 g). Fiber slows down digestion and reduces the rate of sugar absorption into the bloodstream, which encourages steadier blood sugar levels.
Their low glycemic index is pretty much what makes oranges tolerable in a diabetic diet, when consumed in moderation and as part of an overall clean, varied and balanced diet.
By comparison, pears have a GI of 38, apples 39 and plums and strawberries 40 (100 g of strawberries also has only 4.89 g of sugar compared to 9.35 g in oranges).
Oranges glycemic load: 5 (low). The glycemic load (GL) is a scale that measures how fast the carbohydrates in a serving of plant food raise blood sugar levels, compared to pure glucose. It’s different from the glycemic index in that it takes into account serving size. Below 10 is a low GL. Between 11-19 is a moderate GL. Over 20 is a high GL. The lower the glycemic load, the better it is.
The glycemic load is determined by dividing the glycemic index of a fruit to 100 then multiplying the resulting number to the amount (in grams) of carbohydrates in a serving (such as the standard 100 g).
40 (glycemic index)/100 X 11.75 (g of carbs in 100 g of fruit) = 0.4 X 11.75 = 4.7 (estimated GL is 5)
Eating 100 g of a fresh orange is the equivalent to eating almost 5 g of pure glucose, to give you an idea of how the glycemic load works.
Overall, the biggest benefits of oranges for diabetes are:
1) Low glycemic index (40) and low glycemic load (5) – contribute to steadier blood sugar levels.
2) Good fiber content (2.4 g/100 g), found in pulp and pith (white spongy part) – slows down the rate of sugar absorption and holds minor benefits for weight loss, an important aspect in diabetes.
3) Good vitamin C content (53.2 mg/100 g) in the fresh, unprocessed (uncooked) fruit – good for wound healing, better immune system response, boosts iron absorption to combat anemia and fatigue and holds minor benefits for cardiovascular health.
4) Modest vitamin B1 (0.087 mg/100 g), B2 (0.04 mg), B3 (0.282 mg), B5 (0.25 mg), B6 (0.06 mg) and B9 (30 mcg) – good for skin and diabetes associated nerve damage (neuropathy).
5) Modest potassium and magnesium content (below 5% of recommended daily intake) – minor benefits for hypertension, a major concern for many diabetics.
6) Tonic energizing properties from varied vitamin and mineral profile, high water content to combat dehydration – support a healthy diet and lifestyle.
7) Source of antioxidants such as carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), naringenin in the white, spongy pith and aromatic compounds – anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, free radical scavenging, cardioprotective, anti-obesity and cholesterol-lowering properties with general benefits for diabetes prevention and management.
Conclusion: Can diabetics eat oranges? Yes, most diabetics can eat oranges and bananas, cherries and apples, pears and strawberries and several other fruits safely with their condition, provided intake is limited to moderately small amounts. The fruit is best eaten after a light protein, low-carbohydrate meal, preferably not everyday and especially not in combination with other fruit (one fruit at a time). It is recommended to see your doctor or a dietitian and get a personalized eating plan that includes a maximum allowed intake of carbohydrates per day and per meal. Based on this, plan your meals ahead by determining their carbohydrate content and measure that against your recommended intakes. This should allow you to include fresh fruits such as oranges in your diet safely, even with diabetes.