Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007.
“Back in the day,” before fruit snacks and juice boxes, fruit was a main source of sugar in the diet. Today, fruits make up a small portion of the sugar we consume, but fruits get a bad rap, especially in the diabetes world.
Yes, fruits contain sugar, but they also contain nutrients that are very healthy and beneficial, even for someone with diabetes. People often comment, “I can’t have that (insert name of fruit here)! I have diabetes!” But fruit can be healthful!
5 reasons fruit can be healthful for people with diabetes
1. Fruits contain natural sugar. Approximately 13 percent of adults' total caloric intakes came from “added sugars” between 2005 and 2010, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. “Added sugars” are defined as sweeteners added to processed and prepared foods. Increased consumption of added sugars results in decreased intake of natural, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables.
> Consuming whole fruits is always recommended over fruit juice. Fruit juice contains a lot of added sugar, and most often contains very little actual fruit juice.
2. Fruits are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that help protect your body’s cells from infection, heart disease, cancer, and general damage. Research has found that eating fruits may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, a common health risk associated with diabetes, through antioxidant activity that helps increase the HDL or “good” cholesterol in the body.
3. Fruits are high in phytochemicals. Phyto (plant)-chemicals provide unique flavor, smell, and color to a fruit, and they are a part of the plant’s natural defense systems. It is thought that these plant chemicals also provide a defense system for cells of the human body. Hundreds of different phytochemicals have been identified in a variety of fruits. Some benefits are thought to include improved vision, decreased LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and decreased blood pressure. As a general rule, the brighter the color and the stronger the smell of the fruit, the more phytochemicals it contains.
4. Fruits are high in fiber. Research suggests that a high-fiber diet significantly improves blood glucose control and reduces cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. It is recommended that adults get an average of 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Fruit intake increases fiber intake. Fruits with the highest fiber are raspberries (eight grams/cup), pear with skin (five and a half grams/one medium), apple with skin (four and a half grams/one medium), banana (three grams/one medium), orange (three grams/one medium), and strawberries (three grams/cup).
5. Fruits can have a low glycemic index. A food with a high glycemic index raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low glycemic index. Low glycemic index fruits include raspberries, apples, under-ripe bananas, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, pears, and strawberries. Medium glycemic index fruits include apricots, kiwi, papaya, and peaches. And high glycemic index fruits include melons, pineapple, over-ripe bananas, and dates.
Epidemiological studies suggest that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease. And the American Association of Diabetes Educators recommends healthy eating with meal plans that include a variety of foods, including fruit. Knowing the facts about fruit (glycemic index, fiber content, serving size, carb content) can help guide the choices you make to optimize blood glucose control and overall health. Get colorful with your meals and snacks—add fruits for good taste and good health.