Diabetics often ask whether it is safe for them to eat large quantities of fruit. Many diabetic patients avoid eating fruit because they are worried that the high sugar content found in most fruits will worsen their condition. Fortunately, there are many fruits a diabetic can enjoy which do not significantly affect blood glucose levels, in fact certain fruits may actually improve glucose control and insulin sensitivity over time.
Good Fruits For Diabetics
Fiber rich foods are generally safe for diabetics to eat because they tend to have a lower glycemic index (GI) and therefore do not spike blood sugar levels to the same extent as high GI foods. This is because fiber delays the emptying of stomach contents into the small intestine which slows down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream. Fiber rich fruits tend to be fruits with edible skins and seeds as it is these parts of the fruit that are highest in fiber. Fruits high in fiber include (fiber content in brackets): passion fruit (10.4%), raspberries (6.5%), apples (2.5%), pears (2.1%), apricots (2.1%), blueberries (2.7%), kiwifruit (2.1%), strawberries (2.0%), pomegranates (3.4%), and avocados (6.7%).
The avocado is not only high in fiber, but is also a rich source of monounsaturated fat. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a diet high in monounsaturated fat as it can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease which is more common in diabetics than the general population. There is also some evidence that a diet rich in monounsaturated fat can improve glycemic control.
Fruits high in fructose, and those with high fructose to glucose ratios are also beneficial to diabetics because fructose does not require insulin to metabolize and therefore can be enjoyed by people with insulin resistance problems. Fructose also has a much lower glycemic index of 19 compared to glucose or sucrose (table sugar) which have GI values of 100 and 60 respectively. This means high fructose fruits will not spike blood sugar levels to the same extent as high glucose fruits. High fructose fruits include apples, cherries, pears, guavas, and mangoes – all of which have fructose to glucose ratios close to, or greater than 2.
Small amounts of fructose appear to help lower blood sugar levels by increasing the activity of certain liver enzymes involved in glucose uptake and storage. One study, published in 1993 in the Journal of Internal Medicine, looked at the effects of fructose on a group of diabetic patients. The researchers found that a diet where fructose made up 20% of carbohydrate calories resulted in a 34% improvement in insulin sensitivity compared to a diet containing no fructose.
It should be noted that beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are not a substitute for fruits high in fructose. These heavily processed drinks tend to have an extremely high fructose content, far in excess of that found in fresh fruits and are devoid of the various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals typically found in fresh fruit. Chronic consumption of HFCS has been linked to increased rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Along with high fiber and fructose levels, apples have additional benefits for people with diabetes. Raw apples contain high amounts of pectin which has been shown to improve glycemic control in diabetics, reducing insulin requirements by up to 50% in some cases. More information on controlling glucose levels with pectin can be found here.
Grapefruit is another fruit which may be beneficial for diabetics. Grapefruit can promote weight loss which in turn helps reduce insulin resistance. According to the Scripps institute, grapefruit may also help control insulin levels when consumed during meal times.
Bad Fruits For Diabetics
Fruits with high amounts of the sugars glucose and sucrose tend to have high GI values and should only be eaten in small amounts as they can spike blood glucose levels very quickly. Most however can still be enjoyed in small quantities as part of a healthy diabetic meal plan. High GI fruits include bananas, cantaloupes, dates, grapes, watermelon, pineapples, and oranges. Dates in particular should be eaten sparingly because they have an extremely high sugar content per serving (55g in half a cup of chopped dates). Combine this with a relatively high GI of 53 and you have a food that will produce a significant glycemic response, even in small amounts.
The GI of bananas varies widely depending on ripeness. This is because some of the starch in bananas is converted into more readily absorbed sugars as the banana ripens. The GI of a green banana is around 40 compared to 60 for an over-ripe banana. Diabetics who enjoy eating bananas should stick to slightly green bananas to avoid blood sugar spikes.
Fruit juices tend to be stripped of the pulpy fibrous parts of the fruit and therefore are very low in fiber and high in sugar. Many fruit juices manufacturers add additional sugar to their fruit juices to the extent that some fruit juices have higher sugar levels than carbonated sodas. A glass of fruit juice a day probably won’t hurt but if you’re drinking much more than this, consider cutting back by diluting the juice with water.
Dried fruits tend to have a significant effect on blood sugar levels due to their high sugar content by weight. Canned fruit in syrup also tends to be high in sugar and therefore should be eaten in moderation or drained of the syrup before consuming. Many fruits can be purchased canned in their own juices rather than in syrup – these should be used when available.
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