The prevalence and severity of diabetes and its resulting metabolic complications are rapidly increasing, hence a major challenge to health care providers. Fruits are widely used in the control of diabetes to prevent these complications. They contain many bioactive constituents such as minerals, vitamins, fibers, and phytochemicals which have proven to be useful in the control of diabetes. Also, most fruits contain sugars (mostly fructose and sucrose) which has raised doubts about whether they are convenient for the regulation of blood sugar levels. In this write-up, we will shed more light on which fruits are best for diabetics and why.
Effects of fruits on blood sugar.
Fruits contain carbohydrates in the form of sugars such as fructose and sucrose, which may lead to sugar spikes when consumed excessively or as fruit juices.
Regardless, these fruits are also high in fibers. High fiber diets are said to reduce plasma glucose concentration in diabetic patients by slowing the process of glucose absorption. Generally, complex carbohydrates (more fiber) like most fruits have a less negative impact on blood sugar spikes that simple carbohydrates like soda.
Thus fruits can be appropriate for diabetics. On the contrary, fruits juices and canned fruits with added sugar should be avoided. Plain fruit juices contain as much sugar as soda, and crushing the fruits reduces the fiber content.
Also, choose fresh fruits over dried fruits, drying fruits leads to loss of water and an increase in the concentration of nutrients in the fruits, including the sugar concentration. Snacking on dried fruits will soar blood sugar levels, as opposed to eating fresh fruits with fiber
What is the glycemic index?
The most convenient and healthy way for diabetics to select suitable fruits is by checking its glycemic index (GI).
Glycemic index (GI) is the ranking of carbohydrates in foods according to how they affect glucose levels (blood glucose-raising potential). The score shows how quickly the food can raise blood sugar. Carbohydrates with low glycemic index are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized. Hence they cause a slower rise in blood glucose levels. Low glycemic index foods (GI lower than 55) are healthier for diabetics, they include apples (39), pears (38), and grapefruit (25). High GI foods increase blood glucose levels faster and should be avoided. Examples are watermelon and pineapple.
Glycemic load (GL) considers the GI of food plus the number of carbohydrates in a serving. GL may be a better way of evaluating how food affects blood sugar regulation. Low-GI and low-GL foods are better for helping control blood sugar levels.
Surprisingly, most fruits have a low glycemic index
List of fruits for diabetes
Below is a list of fruits divided by the GI index, as reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Low GI and GL fruits
Some fruits have a GI of under 55 and a GL under 10, including.
- kiwi fruit
Medium-GI fruits (GI of 56 to 69)
A fruit with a GI of between 56 and 69 is considered to be a medium-GI food. All fruits listed below still have GL levels under 10.
- honeydew melon
Fruits with a GI higher than 70 are high-GI and a GL of greater than 20 is high GL. While these are safe to eat with diabetes, it is important to eat larger quantities of lower-GI fruits instead.
- dates (high GL)
- watermelon (low GL)
Benefits of fruits for diabetes
Fruits are fundamental in the control of diabetes. They play a vital role in helping people with diabetes feel full and absorb sugar slowly.
Eating enough fiber plays an important role in diabetes management.
Dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber is useful in the management of type 1 diabetes. High fiber diets are said to reduce plasma glucose concentration in diabetic patients by slowing the process of glucose absorption. This is one of the reasons why most diabetes associations encourage high fiber diets for patients. Fibers also can reduce weight and disturb carbohydrates and fat metabolism. Intake of insoluble dietary fibers can be increased by replacing refined foods with whole grains and cereals. as found in whole-grain cereal products are considered to be especially effective in the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus. High consumption of fruits, vegetables, and pulses also shows these health-promoting properties.
Fruits are high in fiber and nutrients, so they are a good choice in meal planning. Processed fruits such as fruit juices which have had their fiber removed should be consumed with limitation.
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Other health benefits of fruits
When healthy food choices are made and eaten in consistent amounts, they help in keeping blood sugar levels stable. Diet can also help to lower the chances of diabetes-related problems like heart disease and kidney disease. As much as five portions of low GI fruits a day will provide you with vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help balance your overall diet. Some fruits such as watermelon are high in sugar but can be taken in moderate amounts. Fruits will satisfy cravings without resorting to cookies, soda, and candies with low nutritional value.
Most fruits are high in nutrients and low in fat and sodium. Bananas contain potassium and tryptophan, an important amino acid. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are high in vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants.
How much fruit should diabetics eat?
Most guidelines recommend five servings of fruits and vegetables for both adults and children each day, including diabetics
People with diabetes should focus on non-starchy vegetables for 50 percent of the meal, rather than depending on the fruit. The remaining half of the meal should be protein and high-fiber starches like beans or whole grains. Many experts also recommend including healthy fat at each meal to encourage feeling full and enhance the absorption of antioxidants and vitamins.
One serving is a medium-sized fruit. For smaller fruits, such as berries, have one-cup as the serving size.
Half a cup is also the serving size for processed fruit products, such as applesauce and fruit juice. The serving for dried fruits like raisins and cherries is 2 tablespoons per serving size.
Fruits are best enjoyed when variety is eaten for more nutrients and flavor.
Diabetics should aim to have fruits throughout the day to achieve the 5 servings goal.
Below are some tips to make planning easier:
Citrus fruits can easily be added to meals. Add lemons and limes to seafood, sauces, or glasses of iced tea or water. You can make your fruit water by adding lemon or lime slices to a pitcher of water
Berries are tasty when eaten raw and can also be cooked into a compote to spoon into oatmeal or meat.
Put whole fresh or frozen berries into a saucepan with a tablespoon or two of water. Cook on medium or low heat until the berries have broken down into a thick sauce.
One serving is half a cup.
Apples are a tasty, popular fruit.
Apples are a popular fruit. They are delicious raw for a snack or dessert. When cooked, apples have a deeper flavor, making them a favorite in cooking.
Avocados are rich in healthy fats called monounsaturated fats. They are eaten raw and can be served sliced, in salads and sandwiches. Avocados are easy to prepare by slicing them in half around the pit.
Healthy Ways to Eat Fruit
Small steps can make a big difference in your blood sugar levels. Be sure to:
- Choose fresh fruits over processed fruits like fruit juices and canned fruits. They may contain more sugar and spike blood sugar
- Watch portion sizes, especially if you are consuming dried fruits
- If you have to eat processed or dried fruits, check labels for added sugars and serving sizes
- Spread your fruits over the day, have some for breakfast, launch, and snacks
Fruits are an essential part of diabetic diets as they play an important role in blood sugar control and the provision of vital nutrients. However, diabetics must pay attention to the glycemic index of the fruits, and portion size before consuming. Although fruits contain carbohydrates that can cause blood sugar surges, they also contain fiber which slows down the absorption of sugar during digestion. Diabetics should choose fresh fruits over dried and processed fruits.
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Samir Devalaraja, Shalini Jain, and Hariom Yadav.,(2011) Exotic Fruits as Therapeutic Complements for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. Food Res Int. 2011 August 1; 44(7): 1856–1865. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2011.04.008.