Fruits often get a bad reputation in the world of diabetes, and many believe they are completely off-limits. While fruits are a source of carbohydrates -- the nutrient responsible for affecting blood sugar -- their carbs are from natural sugar and can be incorporated into a healthy meal plan. However, like all carbohydrates, they should be consumed strategically for the person with diabetes. Some fruits will affect blood sugar more than others, because of their higher glycemic index.
Fiber, Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
Both the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend that people with diabetes consume a varied diet with foods from all food groups, including fruit. Most fruits are a good source of fiber, which actually helps control blood sugar and is necessary for digestive health. The fiber in fruit may even help lower cholesterol, high levels of which tend to go hand in hand with diabetes. Additionally, fruits contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants necessary for good general health and disease prevention.
Glycemic Index and Fruit
While there is little dispute regarding the benefits of fruit in a healthy diet, many find that fruits with a higher glycemic index raise blood sugars more. The glycemic index, or GI, is a numerical system that measures a food's effect on blood sugar compared to pure glucose, of which the reference point is 100. Foods with a value of 55 or less are considered low GI; those with a value of 56 to 69 are medium; and 70 or more are high. High GI fruits include melons, pineapple and very ripe bananas, while the vast majority fall into the low and medium categories. Juices have a higher GI because of liquid's ability to be a absorbed more rapidly into the bloodstream and their lack of fiber.
Portion Sizes Still Matter
Although the GI may be a helpful tool in meal planning, most experts still agree that the quantity of carbohydrate is equally, if not more, important than type. For example, a person may choose an apple over a banana for its low GI. However, in today's world of mega portions, a large apple can easily account for three or four servings of carbohydrate. A serving of carbohydrate, fruit or otherwise, is equal to 15 grams. For a whole fruit, like an apple or peach, this is about the size of a tennis ball. For frozen or canned fruit in water, the serving is ½ cup. Other common serving sizes are ¾ to 1 cup for berries or melon, 2 tablespoons for dried fruit, and 1/3 to ½ cup for 100 percent fruit juice.
The Bottom Line
The American Diabetes Association recommends using the GI as a method of "fine-tuning" a meal plan after understanding the basics of carbohydrate counting, because many other factors affect the glycemic effect of a particular fruit. For instance, eating a fruit alone as a snack will raise blood sugar more quickly than if eaten in the context of a protein-rich meal. However, as a general rule, choosing low and medium GI fruits while limiting juices and high GI fruits can help manage blood sugar levels for many diabetics.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Diabetes Association: Glycemic Index and Diabetes
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eating Right with Diabetes
- American Diabetes Association: Making Healthy Food Choices
- National Institutes of Health: Food Exchange Lists -- Fruit
- The University of Sydney: Glycemic Index