You’ve always included fruit as a staple of a healthful diet. You love the sweet taste of a peach, a refreshing chunk of watermelon or the delicacy that is a handful of grapes. But now that you have diabetes, you might question whether fruit is still on the table for you. After all, fruit contains carbohydrates and natural sugars that may affect your blood sugar.
Research supports using the glycemic index (GI) as a tool to manage blood sugar and lose weight. If you follow the GI, chances are you’ll find a low-glycemic fruit you enjoy. In fact, you’ll discover an array of low-gi fruits, all of which can provide valuable nutritional benefits without sending your blood sugar skyrocketing.
A GI Primer
Simply put, the glycemic index is a system that gauges how your blood sugar (glucose) rises in response to carbohydrate-containing foods. These foods are ranked on a scale from 0 to 100, based on how much they increase blood sugar after you eat them.
The GI values are based on the average blood-sugar response of 10 healthy people to a food containing 50 grams of carbohydrate (25 grams for foods with lower carbohydrate counts). High-GI foods, which are quickly digested and cause sharp rises in blood sugar, score at 70 or above on the scale. Low-glycemic fruit and other foods, which are digested more slowly and cause more gradual increases in blood sugar, score at 55 or below. A medium-GI food has a value of 56 to 69 on the index. Glucose and white bread have a GI of 100 and serve as the standards to which other foods are compared and scored.
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Since the glycemic index doesn’t indicate the amount of carbohydrate in a food, experts developed the glycemic load (GL), which takes into account a food’s carbohydrate count and its effect on blood sugar. The GL of a particular food is calculated by multiplying its GI by its carbohydrate content and dividing it by 100. GL classifications for individual food portions are as follows:
- Low GL: 10 or lower
- Medium GL: 11 to 19
- High GL: 20 or higher
A searchable database of GI and GL values is available at glycemicindex.com.
The Bottom Line on Low GI Fruits
So, can diabetics eat fruit? The short answer is yes. Your best bet is to choose fresh or frozen fruits without added sugar as well as fruits canned in juice and not highly sugary syrups.
In general, if you’re using the glycemic index as a guide for your diabetes meal planning, focus on foods with low or medium GI values. (If you eat a high-GI food, balance your meal with low-glycemic fruits or other low-GI foods.) Despite its natural sugar content, fruit typically scores low to medium on the GI, giving you a variety of low-GI fruit to choose from.
Keep in mind that the GI has limitations that make it imprecise. Specifically, the GI of a fruit can change based on several factors, among them fiber content, ripeness, and even how it’s prepared. A ripe (all yellow) banana, for example, has a GI of 51, whereas the GI of a semi-ripe banana (yellow with green sections) is 42. The GI value of a particular food fluctuates when you eat it in combination with others. If you put peanut butter on a banana, for example, the GI values of both foods may change.
The GI also can be somewhat misleading because certain fruits may have relatively high GI values but low amounts of carbohydrates and calories. For instance, watermelon has a high GI of 72 but contains only 6 grams of carbohydrates per 120-gram serving, giving it a low GI of 4.
Additionally, GI values may vary by brands of fruit and the way they’re processed. Plus, individual responses vary, so a food that raises one person’s blood sugar might not affect you the same way.
Given the variability in GI values, consider the total carbohydrate count and GL when you’re picking a low-GI fruit. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) points to research showing that the total amount of carbohydrate in a food usually is a stronger predictor of blood-sugar response than the GI, and that most people should consider carbohydrate counting as the primary tool for blood-sugar management. (A small piece of whole fruit or approximately a half-cup of frozen or canned fruit contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates, according to the ADA.) The GI may then be a useful adjunct along with carb counting as a way to achieve your blood-sugar goals.
The portion control of fruit, especially dried fruit, matters if you have diabetes. For example, 4 tablespoons of raisins (GI of 64) contain 44 grams of carbohydrates, and that quantity of raisins is unlikely to fill you up. So, as with any food, moderation is key.
Overall, consider your fruit choices in the context of your overall diabetes meal plan. If you do, there’s no reason you can’t reap the bounty of nutritional benefits that fruit offers, without sabotaging your blood-sugar control.