Low-Carb Fruits With the Most and Least Sugar
If you follow a low-carb diet or are living with diabetes, you may have a complicated relationship with fruit. You may have heard you don’t need to worry about how much sugar is in fruit because it is considered natural sugar. But that will depend whether you are following a diet that counts carbs or one that relies on the glycemic index or glycemic load. Knowing which fruits are naturally lower in sugar can help you make better choices to fit your diet.
The Natural Sugar in Fruit
The FDA recommends adults eat two cups of fruit or fruit juice or a half-cup of dried fruit per day. How much fruit you eat may differ if you are following a specific low-carb diet plan or if you are limiting carbohydrates in your diet due to diabetes.
Most fruits have a low glycemic index (GI) due to the amount of fiber they contain and because their sugar is mostly fructose. However, dried fruit (such as raisins, dates, and sweetened cranberries), melons, and pineapples have a medium GI value.
Fruits contain many nutrients, and if you want to satisfy a sugar craving, fruit is the best choice. The good news is that the fruits lowest in sugar have some of the highest nutritional values, including antioxidants and other phytonutrients. On the other hand, some people digest and process sugar better than others. If you are someone who responds well to a low-carb diet, it pays to be careful.
Quick View of the Sugars in Fruits
For a quick way to think about which fruits are lowest in sugar, use these rules of thumb. Fruits are listed here from lowest to highest sugar content:
Berries: These generally are the fruits lowest in sugar, and also among the highest in antioxidants and other nutrients. Lemon and lime are also in the lowest category.
Summer Fruits: Melons, peaches, nectarines, and apricots are next in sugar-order.
Winter Fruits: Apples, pears, and sweet citrus fruit such as oranges are moderate in sugars. (lemons and limes are low in sugar).
Tropical Fruits: Pineapple, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, and fresh figs are high in sugar (guava and papaya are lower than the others).
Dried Fruit: Dates, raisins, apricots, prunes, figs, and most other dried fruits are extremely high in sugar. Dried cranberries and blueberries would be lower, except that a lot of sugar is usually added to combat the tartness.
Here is a deeper dive into the fruits ranked from lowest to highest in sugar.
Fruits Low in Sugar (Low-Carb Fruits)
Lime (1.1 grams of sugar per fruit) and lemon (1.5 grams of sugar per fruit) are rarely eaten as-is; they are mostly converted to juice and then sweetened. But you can add a slice to your water or squeeze them on food to add their nutrients and tartness.
Rhubarb: 1.3 grams of sugar per cup. You are unlikely to find unsweetened rhubarb, so check the label before you assume what you are eating is low in sugar. But if you prepare it yourself, you can adjust the amount of added sugar or artificial sweetener.
Apricots: 3.2 grams of sugar per small apricot. They are available fresh in spring and early summer. You can enjoy them whole, skin and all. Be sure to watch your portions of dried apricots, however, as (of course) they shrink when dried.
Cranberries: 4 grams of sugar per cup. While very low in sugar naturally, they are usually sweetened when used or dried, so be wary. If you use them in recipes yourself, you can adjust the amount of sugar added.
Guavas: 4.9 grams of sugar per fruit. You can slice and eat guavas, including the rind. Some people enjoy dipping them in salty sauces. They are the low-sugar exception to the tropical fruits.
Raspberries: 5 grams of sugar per cup. Nature’s gift for those who want a low-sugar fruit, you can enjoy raspberries in every way, eaten by themselves or as a topping or ingredient. You can get them fresh in summer or find them frozen year-round.
Kiwifruit: 6 grams of sugar per kiwi. They have a mild flavor but add lovely color to a fruit salad. Also, you can eat the skin.
Fruits Containing Low to Medium Levels of Sugar
Blackberries and strawberries: 7 grams of sugar per cup. With a little more sugar than raspberries, these are excellent choices for a snack, in a fruit salad, or as an ingredient in a smoothie, sauce, or dessert.
Figs: 8 grams of sugar per medium fig. Note that this figure is for fresh figs. It may be harder to estimate for dried figs of different varieties, which can have 5 to 12 grams of sugar per fig.
Grapefruit: 8 grams of sugar per grapefruit half. You can enjoy fresh grapefruit in a fruit salad or by itself, adjusting the amount of sugar or sweetener you want to add.
Cantaloupes: 8 grams of sugar per large wedge. These are a great fruit to enjoy by themselves or in a fruit salad. They are the lowest in sugar of the melons.
Tangerines: 9 grams of sugar per medium tangerine. They have less sugar than oranges and are easy to section for fruit salads. They are also easy to pack along for lunches and snacks, with built-in portion control.
Nectarines: 11.3 grams of sugar in one small nectarine. These are delicious fruits to enjoy when ripe.
Papaya: 12 grams of sugar in one small papaya. They are lower in sugar than the other tropical fruits.
Oranges: 12 grams of sugar in a medium orange. These are great to pack along for lunches and snacks.
Honeydew: 13 grams of sugar per wedge or 14 grams per cup of honeydew balls. They make a nice addition to a fruit salad or to eat by themselves.
Cherries: 13 grams of sugar per cup. Ripe fresh cherries are a delight in the summer, but watch your portions if you are limiting sugar.
Peaches: 13 grams of sugar per medium peach. You can enjoy them by themselves or in a variety of ways in desserts, smoothies, and sauces.
Blueberries: 15 grams of sugar per cup. They are higher in sugar than other berries but packed with nutrients.
Grapes: 15 grams of sugar per cup. While they are a nice snack, you’ll need to limit portions if you are watching your sugar intake.
Fruits Containing High to Very High Levels of Sugar
Pineapple: 16 grams of sugar per slice. It’s delightful, but as a tropical fruit, it is higher in sugar.
Pears: 17 grams of sugar per medium pear. This winter fruit is high in sugar.
Bananas: 17 grams of sugar per large banana. They add a lot of sweetness to any dish.
Watermelon: 18 grams of sugar per wedge. While this melon is refreshing, it has more sugar than the others.
Apples: 19 grams of sugar in a small apple. They are easy to take along for meals and snacks, but higher in sugar than tangerines or oranges.
Pomegranates: 39 grams of sugar per pomegranate. The whole fruit has a lot of sugar, but if you limit the portion to 1 ounce, there are only 5 grams effective (net) carbs.
Mangos: 46 grams of sugar per fruit. These tantalizing tropical fruits have a lot of sugar.
Prunes (66 grams of sugar per cup), raisins (86 grams of sugar per cup) and dates (93 grams of sugar per cup) are dried fruits that are very high in sugar.
Fruit and Low-Carb Diets
Some of the popular low-carb diet plans differ, based on whether they consider glycemic index or glycemic load (South Beach, Zone), while others just look at the amount of carbohydrate (Atkins, Protein Power).
Strict low-carb diet: At less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day, you will likely be skipping fruit or substituting it rarely for other items in your diet. Concentrate on getting your nutrients from vegetables. Diets such as Atkins and South Beach don’t allow fruit in the first phase.
Moderate low-carb diet: Those that allow 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day have room for about one fruit serving per day.
Liberal low-carb diet: If your diet allows 50 to100 grams of carbs per day, you may be able to follow the FDA guidelines, as long as you limit other sources of carbs.
Not all low-carb diets limit fruit, however. Diets like the Paleo diet, Whole30, and even Weight Watchers (although it’s not necessarily a low-carb diet) do not place a limit on fruit.
In general, if you are following a low-carb diet, you should try and eat fruits that are low in sugar, 7 grams or less per serving. When consulting the list below, which ranks fruit based on sugar content, keep in mind that some values are per cup while others are per whole fruit.
Fruit Choices When You Have Diabetes
Your fruit choices when you have diabetes depend on the diet method you are using. If you are counting carbohydrates, the are about 15 grams of carbohydrate in 1/2 cup of frozen or canned fruit or 2 tablespoons of dried fruit (such as raisins). But the serving size for fresh berries and melons are 3/4 to 1 cup so that you can enjoy more of them.
If you are using the plate method, you can add a small piece of whole fruit or 1/2 cup of fruit salad to your plate. If you are using the glycemic index to guide your choices, most fruits have a low glycemic index and are encouraged. However, melons, pineapples, and dried fruits have medium values on the GI index.
A Quick Word
You can make the best choices for fruit based on the diet you are following. If you have diabetes, you may want to consult with us to help you design an eating plan that incorporates fruit appropriately. When you are limiting sugar, fruit is a better choice for a sweet craving than reaching for a sugary snack, as long as you keep portions in mind.
Health and Wellness Associates
Dir. Of Personalize Healthcare and Preventative Medicine