Do Apples Affect Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels?
Written by Becky Bell, MS, RD — Medically reviewed by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD — Updated on February 5, 2021
Apples are delicious, nutritious, and convenient to eat. They’re known to have several health benefits. Yet apples also contain carbs, which can affect blood sugar levels.
However, the carbs found in apples affect your body differently than the sugars found in foods containing refined and processed sugars.
Let’s talk about how apples affect blood sugar levels and how to incorporate them into your diet if you have diabetes.
Apples are one of the most popular fruits in the world. They’re also highly nutritious. In fact, apples are high in:
- vitamin C
- several antioxidants
One medium apple contains 104 calories, 27 grams of carbs, and 9 milligrams of vitamin C (1Trusted Source).
A large part of an apple’s nutrient value is found in its colorful skin (2Trusted Source). So washing and keeping the skin on when eating or cooking is the best way to optimize the nutrition you’re getting.
Furthermore, apples contain large amounts of water and fiber, which make them surprisingly filling.
Apples are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. They also help you feel full without consuming a lot of calories.
Apples contain carbs and fiber
If you have diabetes, keeping tabs on your carbohydrate intake is important.
That’s because of the three macronutrients — carbs, fat, and protein — carbs affect your blood sugar levels the most.
That being said, not all carbs are created equal. A medium apple contains 27 grams of carbs, but 4.8 of those are fiber (1Trusted Source).
Fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbs, causing them to not spike your blood sugar levels nearly as quickly (3Trusted Source).
Studies show that fiber may be protective against type 2 diabetes and that many types of fiber can improve blood sugar management (4Trusted Source, 5).
Apples contain carbs, which can raise blood sugar levels. However, the fiber in apples helps stabilize blood sugar levels, in addition to providing other health benefits.
Apples only moderately affect blood sugar levels
Apples do contain sugar, but much of the sugar found in apples is fructose.
When fructose is consumed in a whole fruit, it has very little effect on blood sugar levels (6).
Also, the fiber in apples slows down the digestion and absorption of sugar. This means sugar enters the bloodstream slowly and doesn’t rapidly raise blood sugar levels (3Trusted Source).
Moreover, polyphenols, which are plant compounds found in apples, also may slow down the digestion of carbs and lower blood sugar levels (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
Apples score relatively low on both the glycemic index (GI) and the glycemic load (GL) scales, meaning that they should cause a minimal rise in blood sugar levels (10).
Apples have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels and are unlikely to cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, even in those with diabetes.
Apples may reduce insulin resistance
There are three types of diabetes — type 1, non-insulin dependent (type 2), and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, the hormone that transports sugar from your blood to your cells. Insulin must be taken daily.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body commonly doesn’t produce enough insulin to meet your daily needs, in addition to cellular resistance to the insulin that’s produced (11Trusted Source).
Eating apples on a regular basis has the potential to reduce insulin resistance, which should lead to lower blood sugar levels (7Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
This is because the polyphenols in apples, which are found primarily in apple skin, stimulate your pancreas to release insulin and help your cells take in sugar (Trusted Source2Trusted Source, Trusted Source7Trusted Source).
Apples contain plant compounds that may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance.
Several studies have found that eating apples is linked to a lower risk of diabetes.
A 2019 review of studies indicated that eating apples and pears was linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes (13).
Three cohort studies from 2013 found that greater consumption of whole fruits, specifically blueberries, grapes, and apples, was linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The same was not found for fruit juice, however (14Trusted Source).
There are multiple reasons apples might help prevent diabetes, but the antioxidants found in apples likely play a significant role.
Antioxidants are substances that prevent some harmful chemical reactions in your body. They have numerous health benefits, including protecting your body from chronic disease.
Significant amounts of the following antioxidants are found in apples:
- Quercetin. May slow down carb digestion, helping to prevent blood sugar spikes (15Trusted Source).
- Chlorogenic acid. May help your body use sugar more efficiently, though some results were inconclusive (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
- Phlorizin. Could potentially slow down sugar absorption and lower blood sugar levels. Note that sample sizes were low in these studies and would need to be validated by other, longer-term studies (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
The highest concentrations of beneficial antioxidants are found in honeycrisp and red delicious varieties of apples (20Trusted Source).
Eating apples on a regular basis may help prevent type 2 diabetes, as well as keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Should people with diabetes eat apples?
Apples are an excellent fruit to include in your diet if you have diabetes.
Most dietary guidelines for people living with diabetes recommend a diet that includes fruits and vegetables (21).
Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
In addition, diets high in fruits and vegetables have repeatedly been linked to lower risks of chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer (Trusted Source22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
While apples are unlikely to cause spikes in your blood sugar levels, they do contain carbs. If you’re counting carbs, be sure to account for the 27 grams of carbs an apple contains.
Also, be sure to monitor your blood sugar after eating apples and see how they affect you personally.
The bottom line
Apples are a delicious and healthy food to add to your diet, regardless of whether you have diabetes or not.
Here are some tips for people with diabetes to include apples in their meal plans:
Eat it whole. To reap all of the health benefits, eat the apple whole. A large part of the nutrient value is in the skin (Trusted Source2Trusted Source).
Avoid apple juice. The juice does not have the same benefits as the whole fruit, since it’s higher in sugar and missing the fiber (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).
Limit your portion. Stick with one medium apple since larger portions will increase the likelihood of a blood sugar spike.
Spread out your fruit intake. Spread your daily fruit intake throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
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