Can diabetics eat cherries safely with their condition? 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 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 of the fruit diabetics can eat depends on their current state of health and weight, other dietary choices and level of physical activity. Not everyone with diabetes can eat the same amount of cherries and some diabetics may be better off not including the fruit in their diet for a while, at least not without first making room for the carbs brought on by the fruit.
Why are cherries good for diabetes?
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 levels, but rather raise blood sugar slowly and steadily. This is owed in part to their good content of dietary fiber: 100 grams of raw cherries with pits have 2.1 grams of fiber.
However, it’s important to not eat too much at once or have the fruit too frequently in a day or week as the sugar eventually accumulates, resulting in high blood sugar levels and, long-term, complications for diabetes.
Sour cherries on the other hand have less fiber, approximately 1.6 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams of fruits with pits. But because they also have a low glycemic index, that means you can eat sour cherries with diabetes, and do so safely. But keep to modest amounts.
Aside from cherries, some of the best fruits to consider for diabetes are apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, berries such as blueberries, red, yellow and black raspberries, blackberries, red, white and black currants, strawberries, bananas, grapes, kiwifruit, oranges, mandarins, tangerine, lime, lemon, yuzu and myrobalan plums, also called cherry plums.
It’s important to remember to eat modest amounts and choose fruits you can eat with skin and pulp to get good amounts of dietary fiber for better blood sugar control. Overall, the best fruits for diabetes are those with a low glycemic index or moderately low glycemic index. Learn more about the glycemic index.
Cherries have a moderate sugar content
Below is a list of the different types of cherries and cherry preparations and their sugar content.
- Raw sweet cherries: 12.82 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Raw red sour cherries: 8.49 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Maraschino cherries (canned, drained): 38.77 grams of sugar per 100 grams
- Acerola and pitanga/surinam cherry: 0 grams of sugar
- Canned sweet cherries, packed in water: 10.26 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Canned sweet cherries, packed in heavy syrup: 16.18 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Dried, sour cherries (sweetened): 67.15 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Canned sour cherries, packed in water: 7.6 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Canned sour cherries, packed in heavy syrup: 22.7 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit
- Regular cherry jam: 45 to 65 grams of sugar per 100 grams of jam
If you have diabetes and want to eat cherries, then it’s better to choose the fresh fruit and not exceed 100-150 grams per serving to limit intake of carbs and sugar. Consider the weight of the whole fruit (skin, pulp and pits) when measuring portion size. Pitted cherries will provide a lot more in terms of carbs and sugar compared to cherries with pits 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 as you get less sugar per serving, but keep to a similar, small portion size. Sour acerola cherries are a good option as they have no actual sugar, just digestible carbohydrates, but the content is significantly lower which entails a lower glycemic impact as well. Orange pitanga or surinam cherries can also be considered, although not the dark red and black varieties which have plenty of sugar.
Observation: Not all cherry varieties are the same. Variety, or cultivar, processing needed to turn the fruit into various food products (e.g. juice, jam), ripeness or lack thereof are just a few factors that impact the nutritional value of cherries and subsequently their effects on blood sugar. This means that some cherries may actually be slightly better for diabetes than others.
Sugar content in different cherry 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 for fruit in general is a sweet taste. So it may help if you taste different varieties of cherries, or research them, or both, to see which is the sweetest and which is less sweet. If you do value taste more, just adjust the portion size and eat what you like best.
Sugar content in sweet vs sour cherries
Sweet cherries have more sugar than tart or sour cherries. How much sugar in sweet cherries? On average, sweet cherries have 12.8 grams of sugar per 100 grams. How much sugar in sour cherries? A serving of 100 grams of sour cherries provides an average of 8.5 grams of sugar.
Sugar content in ripe vs unripe cherries
Unripe cherries have more complex, indigestible carbohydrates compared to ripe. But as the fruits ripen, part of those complex carbohydrates turn into sugar. As a result, ripe cherries have a lot more sugar than unripe ones. Overripe fruit are even richer in sugar. Find out more about the difference between ripe and unripe fruit.
You can tell how ripe a fruit is based on taste, but also color and texture. The ripe and overripe fruit are darker red in color, often with mushy, brown spots and also feel softer to the touch. The ripe and overripe fruit are also more easily digestible in the sense that they don’t require as much chewing.
Sugar content in different cherry colors
Which is better for diabetes between red cherries, black cherries, yellow cherries and white cherries? If color is the only aspect considered, then you can have any of them. It’s true that yellow cherries and white cherries are sweeter than red and black, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for diabetes.
Yellow and white cherry varieties do taste sweeter because they lack the organic acids that make the other colors apparently taste less sweet. The sugar and carbs are still there, but in red and black cherries they’re masked by the presence of organic acids which give the fruit a slight sharpness that balances the flavor.
Processing: fresh vs dried cherries vs juice
The fresh fruit is always better than the juice and dried fruit, at least for diabetes. The fresh fruit is a good source of vitamins, minerals, sugar, fiber and other nutrients, but high in water so that you actually get limited amounts of carbs and sugar so as to not experience spikes in blood sugar levels, but still feel satisfied.
The juice lacks the skin and pulp which contain the dietary fiber with blood sugar lowering effects which automatically means a high glycemic impact and higher blood sugar levels. Not just this, but cherry juice has more sugar per serving, and a bigger portions size, so it can raise blood sugar levels pretty quickly and considerably more than the fresh fruit. Even without added sugars which are commonly present.
Dried cherries may also contain added sugars (especially true for sour varieties of cherry), food coloring agents and various preservatives which are simply not healthy. Not to mention the fact that portion sizes are much smaller which means less satisfaction. It’s actually difficult to control portions of juice or dried fruits and most people just eat and drink above recommended servings. Generally speaking, it’s healthier to eat fruit vs drink fruit juice.
Diabetes and weight: considerations
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 problematic foods from your diet before introducing new ones, however healthy. Just pilling on foods will not solve the core issue.
It doesn’t matter if the new foods are healthy, low in calories or good for diabetes. Calories accumulate and add to the weight gain which is a source of complications in diabetes. So before introducing cherries or other foods into your diet, it’s best to remove problematic foods first, specifically: highly processed foods, high-carbohydrate foods, foods high in added sugar, foods high in fat, fried and heavy foods. At the same time, introduce lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet to help with both your condition and achieve weight loss, but avoid juices, canned and dried fruits.
Other benefits of cherries for diabetes
- Cherries have a low fat content and moderate energetic value (63 kcal per 100 grams) which makes them good for weight management and weight loss.
- Moderate source of vitamin C, vitamins B5 and B6 with benefits for immunity, digestion, energy metabolism, weight management, cardiovascular and skin health.
- Contain small amounts of potassium for regulating blood pressure and other minerals (iron, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus) with an energizing action and tonic, revitalizing effects.
- Important source of antioxidants with benefits for multiple systems and organs.
Side effects and adverse reactions
Possible side effects of eating cherries with diabetes may range from weight gain and spikes in blood sugar levels, if intakes are consistently unreasonable, to allergic reactions. If you experience a tingling sensation in the lips, tongue or back of the throat, itching in the mouth or throat, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, a drop in blood pressure, sweating or get a rash on your skin, seek medical help immediately. It is possible you are experiencing an allergic reaction.
Cherries and diabetes: observations
Diabetics can eat cherries and other fruits safely as long as they enjoy small portions (100-150 grams) and do not exceed their daily recommended intakes of sugar, carbohydrates and calories. 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 diabetes.
To enjoy better blood sugar control and reduce risks of blood sugar spikes, you can spread your fruit intake over the course of the entire day. Fresh fruit are always better for diabetes than juices and sweetened canned or dried fruit, although you can eat those too – just remember that serving sizes are smaller than with the fresh fruit.
It’s important to get cherries from organic agriculture and choose low-sugar varieties which you can tell by simply tasting them. If eating cherries makes you feel sick, then discontinue consumption and see your doctor for advice. With diabetes, always consider your individual tolerance to fruits and other foods to determine how much of what you can eat safely.