Low-Sugar Fruits for Low-Carb Diets

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Verywell / Katie Kerpel

If you follow a low-carb diet or are living with diabetes, you may have a complicated relationship with fruit. Maybe you've heard you don't need to worry about the sugars in fruit because they're "natural." While it's true that the sugars in fruit are naturally-occurring, the extent to which you can include them in your diet will depend on what type of eating plan you're following.

For instance, are you counting carbs or taking note of the glycemic index or glycemic load of the foods you eat? Knowing which fruits are naturally lower in sugar can help you make choices that fit best with your individual dietary needs.

Natural Sugar in Fruit

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (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 aren't just packed with nutrition, they're also versatile and tasty. With their natural sweetness, fruits are a fantastic way to satisfy a craving for sweets. In fact, those lowest in sugar have some of the highest nutritional values, plus antioxidants and other phytonutrients.

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6 Low-Sugar Fruits for Low-Carb Diets

Quick Overview

Use these rules of thumb for a quick way to assess the sugar content of your favorite types of fruit. The fruits listed below are ranked from lowest to highest sugar content.

  1. Berries: Generally the fruits lowest in sugar, berries are also among the highest in antioxidants and other nutrients. Together with lemon and lime, which are also among the lowest sugar fruits, berries aren't just for eating—they can also add flavor to water.
  2. Summer Fruits: Melons, peaches, nectarines, and apricots are great on their own or thrown together in a fruit salad.
  3. Winter Fruits: Apples, pears, and sweet citrus fruit such as oranges are moderate in sugars. These fruits can be eaten as-is or used to top yogurt.
  4. Tropical Fruits: Pineapple, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, and fresh figs are high in sugar. The exceptions are guava and papaya, which are a bit lower. These fruits can be easily sliced and added to a number of savory and sweet meals.
  5. Dried Fruit: Dates, raisins, apricots, prunes, figs, and most other dried fruits are extremely high in sugar. Dried cranberries and blueberries would be lower, but sugar is typically added to combat the berries' natural tartness. You'll find dried fruit most often in granola, cereal, or trail mixes—all of which tend to be high-carb.

Fruits Low in Sugar

Here's a deeper dive into popular low-carb fruit, as well as ways you can easily incorporate them into your eating plan. Keep in mind that for sugar and carb content, some values are per cup while others are per whole fruit.

  • Lime (1.1 grams of sugar and 7 grams of carb per fruit) and lemon (1.5 grams of sugar and 5.4 grams of carb per fruit): These are rarely eaten on their own. You'll typically use these fruits juiced and sweetened. Try adding a slice to your water or a squeeze of juice to add tartness to a dish.
  • Rhubarb: 1.3 grams of sugar and 5.5 grams of carb per cup. You're unlikely to find unsweetened rhubarb, so check the label before you assume what you are eating is low in sugar. If you prepare rhubarb yourself, you can adjust the amount of added sugar or artificial sweetener.
  • Apricots: 3.2 grams of sugar and 3.8 grams of carb per one 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 they shrink when dried.
  • Cranberries: 3.8 grams of sugar and 12 grams of carbs per cup (fresh). While very low in sugar naturally, be aware that they are usually sweetened when used or dried.
  • Guava: 4.9 grams of sugar and 8 grams of carb 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 generally sugary tropical fruits.
  • Raspberries: 5.4 grams of sugar and 14.7 grams of carb per cup (raw). Nature's gift for those who want a low-sugar fruit, you can enjoy raspberries in every way. Eat a handful by themselves or use as a topping or ingredient. You can get them fresh in summer or find them frozen year-round.
  • Kiwifruit: 6.8 grams of sugar and 11.1 grams of carb per kiwi. They have a mild flavor but add lovely color to a fruit salad. Also, you can eat the skin.

Fruits Low to Medium in Sugar

  • Blackberries and strawberries: 7 grams of sugar per cup. Blackberries are a little higher in carbs with 13.8 grams per cup while strawberries have 11.7 grams. While they have little more sugar than raspberries, both still make excellent choices for a snack, in a fruit salad, or as an ingredient in a smoothie, sauce, or dessert.
  • Figs: 8 grams of sugar and 9.6 grams of carb 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: Half a grapefruit has 8.9 grams of sugar and 10.3 grams of carb. 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 and 8.3 grams of carb 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 and 11.2 grams of carb per medium tangerine. They have less sugar than oranges and are easy to section for fruit salads. Tangerines are also great additions to packed lunches and snacks, with built-in portion control.
  • Nectarines: One small nectarine has 10.7 grams of sugar and 14.3 grams of carbs. Nectarines are tastiest when ripe and are a good source of fiber.
  • Papaya: 9 grams of sugar and 15 grams of carb in one small papaya. Of the selection of tropical fruits, papaya is among the lowest in sugar.
  • Oranges: One medium orange has 12 grams of sugar and 15.4 grams of carbs. With their tough outer skin, the fruit holds up well in your bag until you're ready to peel and eat as a quick, on-the-go snack.
  • Honeydew: 13 grams of sugar per wedge or 14 grams per cup of honeydew balls. When balled, this melon has about 16 grams of carb per cup. Bites of honeydew make a nice addition to a fruit salad or can be popped as a snack by themselves.
  • Cherries: 13 grams of sugar and 22 grams of carb per cup. Ripe fresh cherries are a delight in the summer, but if you're limiting sugar you'll want to watch your portions.
  • Peaches: One medium peach has 13 grams of sugar and 14 grams of carbs. The sweet, soft fruit can be eaten on its own but also suits many dishes, including desserts, ice pops, smoothies, and sauces.
  • Blueberries: 15 grams of sugar and 21 grams of carb per cup. While blueberries are higher in sugar than other berries, they're packed with a powerful blend of antioxidants.
  • Grapes: 15 grams of sugar and 27.3 grams of carbs per cup. If you're watching your sugar intake, keep an eye on serving size. Grapes make a refreshing snack but it's easy to lose track of portions.

Fruits High to Very High in Sugar

  • Pineapple: 16 grams of sugar and 21.6 grams of carb per slice. As a tropical fruit, pineapple is higher in sugar than other options, but it's also a rich source of thiamin and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Pears: One medium pear has 17 grams of sugar and 27.3 grams of carbs. The winter fruit is relatively high in sugar and carbs but is a good dietary source of vitamin C.
  • Bananas: A large banana has 17 grams of sugar and 27 grams of carbs. The fruit favorite is tasty, easy, and convenient, but keep in mind that bananas are higher in sugar and carbs than other options.
  • Watermelon: A wedge of watermelon has 18 grams of sugar and 11.6 grams of crabs. While there's nothing like a refreshing slice of watermelon on a summer's day, the sugar content is a little high compared to other fruit.
  • Apples: One small apple has 19 grams of sugar and about 25 grams of carbs. Apples make easy snacks and meal additions but are higher in sugar than equally convenient tangerines or oranges. 
  • Pomegranates: 39 grams of sugar and 29 grams of carbs per pomegranate. While the whole fruit adds a lot of sugar to your intake, if you limit the portion to 1 ounce you can reduce its sugar and carb load while still enjoying the fruit in moderation.
  • Mangos: One mango has 46 grams of sugar and 50 grams of carbs. Given how high they are in sugar and carbs, the tropical fruit is best enjoyed on occasion if you're following a low-carb eating plan or watching your sugar. In moderation, mangoes are an excellent source of fiber and several phytonutrients.
  • Dried fruits like ​​prunes (66 grams of sugar and 32.2 grams of carbs per cup), raisins (86 grams of sugar and 115 grams of carbs per cup) and dates (93 grams of sugar and 6.2 grams of carbs per cup) are very high in sugar. They're most often encountered in trail mix, granola bars, and cereals, which can also be high in added sugars. Read nutrition labels carefully and check the serving size if you're considering including these options in your eating plan.

Fruit and Low-Carb Diets

If you're on a low-carb eating plan, keep in mind that while some popular low-carb diet plans consider the glycemic index or glycemic load of foods (South BeachZone), others only take the amount of carbohydrate into consideration (AtkinsProtein 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.

If you're following a low-carb diet, you don't necessarily have to restrict your fruit intake. Popular plans like the Paleo diet and Whole30 don't place a limit on fruit. While it's not necessarily a low-carb diet, if you're using Weight Watchers, you also won't have to limit your fruit intake.

In general, if you are following a low-carb diet, try and eat fruits that are low in sugar.

Fruit and Diabetes

Your fruit choices when you have diabetes will depend on the type of diet you're following. If you are counting carbohydrates, for example, you'd want to know that 1/2 cup of frozen or canned fruit has about 15 grams of carbohydrate. For the same amount of carbohydrate, you could enjoy 3/4 to 1 whole cup of fresh berries or melon.

If you are using the plate method, add a small piece of whole fruit or 1/2 cup of fruit salad to your plate. When using the glycemic index (GI) to guide your food choices, keep in mind that most fruits have a low GI and are encouraged. However, melons, pineapples, and dried fruits have medium values on the GI index, so keep an eye on portion size.

A Word From Verywell

You can make the best choices for fruit based on the diet you are following. If you have diabetes, you may want to consult your doctor or a registered dietitian 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.

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Article Sources

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. Published December 2015.

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