Eating fruit can be a healthy and delicious way to add important nutrients to your diet. However, fruits are also a significant source of natural sugars. Because of this, Americans living with diabetes need to be mindful of how they incorporate fruit into their diets.
Living with diabetes requires paying close attention to the foods and nutrients you take in, but does this mean that diabetics cannot eat fruit at all? Contrary to popular belief, no, certainly not. With a proper understanding of how different fruits can affect their blood sugar levels, diabetics too can incorporate fruit into their everyday diets. We’ve prepared this article as a guide to some of the main considerations.
Fruit and Blood Sugar Levels
Fruits can be incorporated into a diabetic diet, however, not all fruits are created equal. Understanding the nuances of different fruits’ nutritional values can help you match appropriate fruits to your current blood sugar needs. The following are some nutritional categories to be aware of when comparing and choosing fruits.
All fruits contain some amount of carbohydrates, one of the body’s primary sources of energy. These carbohydrates are broken down by the body during digestion, at which point they become glucose that is absorbed into the bloodstream. This can quickly spike blood sugar levels, though the extent to which this occurs will depend on the fruit’s specific carbohydrate content. For example, a medium-sized apple contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates, while a cup of strawberries contains about 11 grams of carbohydrates.
For this reason, one of the most important factors to consider in incorporating fruit into your diet is the fruit’s total carbohydrate content. You may be able to incorporate more fruit with lower carbohydrate contents than those with higher contents, which may need to be limited.
The Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale that measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI value are rapidly absorbed and can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, while foods with a low GI value are absorbed more slowly and have a more gradual effect on blood sugar levels. Fruits with a lower GI value include berries, citrus fruits, and stone fruits like plums and peaches. Fruits with a higher GI value include ripe bananas, pineapples, and mangoes.
Having an awareness of the effects of various fruits is important but does not complete the picture. Other dietary strategies exist that can help manage the effects of fruit-borne sugars.
When incorporating fruit into your diet, it’s important to pair them with other foods that will help to slow the absorption of carbohydrates. This can include pairing fruit with protein or healthy fats, such as a handful of nuts or a scoop of Greek yogurt. Another strategy is to eat fruit as part of a mixed meal, such as a salad that includes greens, vegetables, and a source of protein, such as chicken or tofu. Both strategies can help limit blood sugar spikes when employed properly.
Fruits to Limit
To be clear, there are no “good” or “bad” fruits, as all fruits provide important nutrients and can be positive contributions to your diet if done properly. However, diabetics should consume particular forms of fruit with caution.
Though tasty, dried fruit is a very concentrated form of fruit that goes through a drying process. This concentration results in a higher concentration of carbohydrates per serving than in fresh fruit. Dried fruits may also contain added sugars and may even be lower in fiber than fresh fruit.
For instance, just a single ounce of raisins contains 100 calories, 23 grams of carbs, and 18 grams of sugar. In comparison, its fresh counterpart has only 62 calories, 16 grams of carbohydrates, and 15 grams of sugar per full cup. This greater concentration of sugars and carbohydrates may make it harder to control the impact on your blood sugar levels, even when consumed in smaller amounts.
When faced with the option between fresh fruit or fruit juice, picking the whole fruit is always advisable as it can help limit fast spikes in your blood sugar levels due to slower metabolization. Juices can be a significant culprit in causing blood sugar spikes – even those boasting 100% fruit concentrations. Because fruit juice is just pre-pulverized fruit, the body does not have to work as hard to break down the sugars contained in the juice. Consequently, the sugars are metabolized much more quickly, elevating blood sugar dramatically and immediately.
High GI Fruit
As discussed above, the GI is a measurement of how certain foods will impact your blood sugar levels. This makes it a useful tool for people with diabetes to reference when selecting fruits to eat. Fruits with higher GI values are more likely to interfere with your blood sugar control. Fruits with a GI rating higher than 56 are considered “high” and should be consumed with particular caution.
Examples of high-GI fruit include:
• Pineapple: GI = 66
• Mango: GI = 60
• Watermelon: GI = 76
Examples of low-GI fruit include:
• Cherries: GI = 22
• Blackberries: GI = 25
• Grapefruit: GI = 25
Is Fruit Worth all the Trouble?
Though this guide may make fruit seem like a hassle, there are many benefits to incorporating fruit into your diet. For one, fruits are packed with essential nutrients. They contain many common vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K, while some also contain potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are essential to a healthy diet. These features of fruit also help maintain a healthy heart, which in turn can help lower blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. Diabetics, who are predisposed to suffer greater incidences of heart disease, ought to recognize this as a clear benefit.
Additionally, fruits can help improve digestion. They are generally high in fiber, which is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and helps keep your digestive tract in good health by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.
Incorporating fruit into one’s diet bears several advantages, particularly for diabetics. For instance, those essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, that are important for overall health can also help manage some of the complications that are associated with diabetes and can help control blood sugar levels. For example, fruits like berries are rich in antioxidants that have been shown to lower the risk of certain complications from diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease and inflammation. Similarly, the fiber that is present in many fruits can also provide significant benefits to diabetics. The Fiber in fruit slows down the digestion and absorption of sugar, which can help prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. However, as discussed above, it is important to note that some fruits are higher in sugar than others, so people should carefully choose the fruits they incorporate into their diets and monitor their portions accordingly. This discussion clearly demonstrates that, though here are some things to consider before incorporating fruit into a diabetic diet, the benefits these foods can provide are numerous and worth the added effort.
In summary, here are a few tips for effectively incorporating fruit into a diabetes-friendly diet:
1. Choose low-sugar or low-GI fruits.
2. Watch your portion sizes.
3. Pair fruit with Other Foods that will help slow your body’s absorption of carbohydrates.
4. Opt for whole fruit over dried fruits or juices as these other forms of fruit can contribute to spikes in blood sugar.
5. Consult a dietitian to determine a meal plan that works for you.
While fruits are a healthy choice for people with diabetes and can be incorporated into their diet it is important to pay attention to portion sizes, the glycemic index, and the total carbohydrate content of the fruit if you choose to incorporate these foods into your diet. Choosing fruits with a lower glycemic index and lower carbohydrate content, such as berries, citrus fruits, and stone fruits, and pairing them with other foods that slow the absorption of carbohydrates can help to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Similarly, it is important to remember the benefits of incorporating fruit into a diabetic diet. Not only can they provide a plethora of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, but they can also help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent common complications with diabetes and help control blood sugar spikes.
Hopefully, this guide has shown you that fruit can be a part of a healthy diabetic diet and has helped you consider how to best incorporate it into your diet. As always, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian, physician, or diabetes educator to develop a meal plan that works for you before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.