Just last week an elderly man sat at my table crying about his blood sugar levels rising. “I’ve always been in good control. But over the past 3 months my sugar has gone up. I’m very careful with my lifestyle. There’s only one change I’ve made in my diet. I’ve replaced two meals with fruits. This has increased my consumption of fruits. They are the foods I eat the most The healthiest and most natural one can eat. They can’t raise my sugar, can they?”
What is the correct answer to my patient’s question? It is said that the fruit is a natural dessert, full of sweetness. Most of us love fruit because it looks good, tastes good, and we feel (rightfully!) that it’s good for our health. Fruits are an important part of our diet as they are packed with many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as flavonoids, vitamin C and anthocyanins. These compounds not only protect the human body from oxidative stress of free radicals but also boost the immunity level in the body.
Many fruits are rich in fibre, which plays an important role in managing our sugar levels. A diet rich in soluble fiber slows the absorption of sugar. Moreover, fiber makes us feel full, so we eat less. The fruit contains a lot of water, which improves hydration. Both the fiber and water in the fruit help combat constipation, which is a common problem for people with diabetes. Diets that contain adequate amounts of vegetables and fruits reduce the risks of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.
So, can diabetics eat fruit in large quantities? Or, because of its inherent sweetness, is the fruit not strictly contraindicated in diabetes? The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. First, a person with diabetes can consume any fruit. Second, not all fruit is the same, and recommended portion sizes vary a lot based on the glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index is a rating of foods on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the score, the faster the absorption and the consequent rise in blood sugar. Third, the most beneficial effects of fruit are only seen with fresh fruits and not with canned or processed fruits, many of which contain added sugar and may be depleted of nutrients. Fourth, fruit juices are not the same as fruit. In fact, they contain only the sugary part of the fruit without the fiber, and are much less nutritious and spike your blood sugar.
What is the fruit and how much is recommended for diabetics? The key to consuming fruit in diabetes is to incorporate it into your daily carbohydrate allowance. So if you are going to add fruits to your diet, you will have to reduce other carbohydrates. The amount of carbohydrates in the fruit determines its effect on the blood sugar level. For diabetics, one serving of fruit should contain 15 grams of carbohydrates and the total daily intake should not exceed 30 grams. So a person can have 15 grams of carbohydrates in one serving, a total of two servings of fruit per day. It is preferable to eat fruit as a mid-morning or mid-evening snack rather than a dessert after meals because it increases the amount of carbohydrates. Instead of consuming large quantities of fruits, it is better to combine them with protein-rich foods such as dairy products or nuts. Since the fruit lacks proteins, this makes the snack more nutritious and filling.
The glycemic index also helps us choose our fruits, as it reflects how quickly our blood sugar rises. Examples of fruits with a low glycemic index (GI 20-49) include apples, avocados, cherries, guavas, peaches, pears, and strawberries. Medium GI fruits (GI 50-69) include figs, grapes, and oranges. Ripe bananas and dates are examples of fruits with a high glycemic index. The table shows the serving sizes of different fruits, which provide 15 grams of carbohydrates.