Are Oranges Good for Diabetics

Oranges are tasty, versatile and a well-known fruit to people around the world. Their sweetness and slight tartness make them popular in several drinks and dishes. But because oranges are sweet and contain mostly carbs, are oranges good for diabetics? You may be quick to push them aside because of their natural sugar but oranges can be part of the diabetes diet, if you choose them right.

We look at how oranges affect blood glucose levels, the benefits they provide, and how you can enjoy them and still keep blood sugar targets on track.

Can You Eat Oranges with Diabetes

Generally, yes. Oranges can be part of a diabetes friendly diet but you want to eat oranges in moderation because they’re still mostly carbohydrates, which can raise blood sugars.

You should also eat whole raw oranges to keep more of the fiber, vitamins and minerals than orange juice or oranges that have been processed.

Nutritional Data of Oranges

While oranges are mostly carbohydrates, they offer the benefits of fiber, key vitamins, and are relatively low in calories.

The nutrition value of 1 cup of oranges has the following:

Calories85Minerals & Vitamins
Protein1.5g Phosphorus38mg
Fat0.25g Potassium274mg
Total Carbohydrates17.5g Vitamin C97.5mg
Fiber3g Folate41mcg
Sugars14g

How Oranges Affect Blood Sugar levels

Diabetes mellitus is a condition where blood glucose (or sugar) exceeds normal or healthy levels. This is due to the pancreas not making enough insulin and/or the body’s inability to use insulin effectively, which is called insulin resistance. 

Insulin is an important hormone made by the pancreas that absorbs blood glucose into cells. But when there isn’t enough insulin, glucose stays in the blood and over time leads to several disorders and complications.

The carbs in oranges can increase your blood glucose levels. And oranges can even spike blood glucose if you eat too many oranges in a short period of time.

Benefits of Oranges for Diabetes

Even though they’re mostly carbs, oranges offer some health benefits for people with diabetes.

pile of whole oranges
Whole, fresh oranges

Low glycemic index food

The glycemic index (GI) is a number that refers to how high and how fast the food increases blood glucose levels.

Foods are ranked on a scale of 100, where food with a higher GI release glucose quickly and lower GI foods release glucose slower.

When you have diabetes, you want to stick to foods with a lower glycemic index to avoid blood sugar spikes. A low GI is 55 and under and a high GI is over 70, which include foods like breakfast cereals, desserts, and breads.

Oranges have a GI of 45-55 making it a low GI food. That means it causes a slower rise in your blood sugar levels, making it one of the better options for people with diabetes.

Good Source of Vitamins and Minerals

Oranges also have important vitamins and minerals that’s helpful for people with diabetes.

Vitamin C

A medium-sized orange has 70mg of Vitamin C per serving, which is about 78% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C. The benefits of vitamin C could include supporting the immune system and protecting against common colds.

Studies have also shown that Vitamin C may help improve blood glucose control and blood pressure in people with type-2 diabetes.

Potassium

Also, one cup of oranges has 274mg or about 8% of the DV for potassium. Potassium is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in cells. But studies suggest that low potassium levels may lead to insulin resistance.

Antioxidants

Flavonoids are a group of plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. They’ve been shown to have benefits of being anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and anticancer.

Citrus fruits like oranges are one source of flavonoid antioxidants.

Blood oranges are a good source of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid antioxidants. Studies suggest these compounds can help with high blood pressure, heart disease, and slowing cancer growth.

sliced blood orange fruit on ceramic plate
Blood orange slices

Fiber

Oranges are also a decent source the soluble fiber, pectin. One cup of orange has 3g of soluble fiber or about 10% of the recommended DV.

Soluble fiber turns into a gel-like substance that slows digestion of food, including slowing the absorption of carbs. So this has the beneficial effect of flattening post-meal blood sugar increases.

While fibers are technically carbohydrates, they’re not digested by the body and don’t spike blood sugar levels like simple carbs do. That’s why adding fiber should be part of a diabetes friendly diet.

Downsides of Oranges When You Have Diabetes

Because oranges are still mostly carbohydrates, keep in mind they can still increase blood sugar. Especially if you’re eating a lot of the orange products below.

Orange Juice

Orange juice is not as good an option as whole oranges because it lacks fiber, which help slow absorption of carbs.

And because it’s in liquid form, it’s very easy to drink too much orange juice and lead to blood sugar spikes.

One 8oz serving of Minute Maid orange juice has 27g of sugar. That may not sound like a lot of sugar but can add up if you drink orange juice a few times a day.

woman holding glass of orange juice
Picture of a large glass of orange juice

Plus keep in mind, people will often drink orange juice with a meal that could also include other carb rich foods. So it’s better for blood sugar management to simply avoid orange juice and pick whole fruits instead.

Canned Oranges

If you don’t have access to fresh citrus fruits, canned oranges are an option but you have to choose the right ones.

A lot of canned fruit are packed in syrup which could increase your blood sugar. Avoid those and instead, buy canned oranges that are packed in water or its natural juices to limit your intake of added sugar.

How to Eat Oranges with Diabetes

Below are some tips on how can diabetics eat oranges without making it harder for blood sugar control and part of a balanced diet.

Choose Whole Fruit Over Juices

As mentioned above, whole oranges contain fiber and provide benefits of slowing glucose absorption.

Also, the pulp and skin of whole fruits is often where the key vitamins and minerals are. But these are mostly stripped away when making fruit juice and fruit-based products.

So try to stick with whole oranges to keep most the health benefits they offer.

How Many Oranges Should You Eat

There is no set number of oranges a person should eat because people vary in size and dietary needs. Instead, we recommend people with diabetes to portion their meals using the plate method.

The American Diabetes Association plate method starts by taking a typical 9″ plate and filling with 50% non starchy vegetables, 25% protein, and 25% carbs. So in this case the orange would be no more than 25% of your plate.

graphic of plate method for diabetes
Simple graphic of the diabetes plate method

The plate method is a simple, visual way to portion control meals while also helping control blood sugar levels. And you save time by not having to weigh or measure foods into the correct portions.

The other good thing about using the plate method is eating the carbs as part of a meal of proteins, veggies and fats. This has the effect of flattening any blood sugar spikes compared to eating the carb by itself.

Try Less Sweet Citrus fruits

If you love to eat oranges but want to limit your carb intake, try the less sweet varieties of citrus fruits. Navel and Valencia oranges are the most common varieties found in groceries stores but they’re also some of the sweetest.

Instead, try less sweet citrus fruits like:

  • Bitter Oranges: Bitter or Seville oranges are usually small and have a sour, somewhat bitter taste.
  • Kumquat: these are in the orange family but much smaller and can be a bit sour. And kumquats are also known for having an edible skin – so no need to peel.
  • Grapefruit/Pomelo: grapefruits are a little sour, bitter but linked to many benefits to health. Pomelos are similar to grapefruits but less bitter and are common in Southeast Asia.
  • Meyer Lemon: these are a cross of a mandarin orange and a lemon. So they’re sweeter than regular lemons, have golden-colored flesh, and tend to be rounder than regular lemons (which are oval-shaped).
pomelo on white background
Pomelo fruit slices

Summary

People with diabetes can definitely consume oranges and can be part of a balanced diet, as they’re generally a low glycemic load food. Oranges are a decent source of fiber to help slow the uptake of glucose, are packed with Vitamin C and potassium, and include powerful antioxidants that protect against key diseases.

However, oranges are still mostly carbs so you should eat them in moderation. You can use the diabetes plate method to limit how many oranges you eat in a day without the hassle of measuring or calorie counting.

And you should also choose whole oranges over orange juice or more processed orange-based foods. Orange juice doesn’t give you the benefits of fiber and is easy to drink too much, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. And while canned mandarin oranges are more convenient, they can be packed in syrup which adds unwanted sugar.

There’s also several varieties of oranges and citrus fruit that are less sweet, making it easier for blood sugar control. Bitter oranges, grapefruit, and kumquats are just some of the less sweet options for people with diabetes but still offer the healthy benefits of oranges.

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