Are fruits a diabetic-friendly food?

Fruit. Fruits are often referred to as nature’s candy. They’re sweet, tasty, and a healthier alternative to sugary treats, right? Well, for the most part, yes. Fruit has more nutrients and antioxidants than that added sugar-packed Mars Bars and it’s not ultra-processed like that sweeter-than-sweet fat-free yoghurt, but fruits aren’t entirely saintly either particularly if you’re diabetic or watching your blood sugars in general.

From dates to smoothies, here’s how fruits affect your diabetes and blood sugar levels.

Are fruits a diabetic-friendly food?


Here’s the long and short of it: consuming too much fruit, particularly high GL fruit as a snack, makes maintaining blood sugar balance very tricky indeed – which you’ll know isn’t a very friendly effect for diabetes. 


See, fruit typically has a higher carb content than vegetables and is often high in a natural sugar called ‘fructose’ which can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. A high-fructose diet is linked with lots of ill effects, like insulin resistance and weight gain to name a few. 


Add to that, fructose delays satiety. This means you’re more likely to overeat and you might find yourself reaching for high-carb treats that don’t do your blood sugar balance any favours. Another UN-friendly effect. 


But wait, that’s not all. High fructose is linked to liver disease in people with type 2 diabetes, and given that your liver is involved in lots of important functions – like hormone production, blood glucose regulation and the detoxification of everything you come into contact with – you undoubtedly want to keep it in good nick.  


That’s not to say that you can’t eat fruit or that it’s a no-go if you’re diabetic (fruits are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and are a source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals, after all) but there are a few things you might want to consider before chowing down…


The whole fruit vs smoothie debate

If you’re on a mission to eat your five a day, one of the easiest ways to hit this target is to surely blitz up some fruits and veggies in a blender and serve up a thick and creamy smoothie, right? Not exactly.


Smoothies might not be just as friendly as you thought they were. 


See, when you blend fruit, you’re essentially robbing your body of one vital function: breaking down fibre. As the blades of your blender have already broken down the fibrous body of the fruit, you absorb the sugars in the fruit much more quickly, experiencing more significant elevations of blood sugar as a result.


Then there are juices. Juicing removes fibre completely, resulting in a huge blood sugar spike – which is dangerous if you are diabetic. 


In fact, studies suggest that regularly consuming juices may increase your type 2 diabetes risk by 21%. Pretty scary, huh? 


Add to that, you probably wouldn’t sit down to eat five fruits in one sitting, but you could easily toss this many fruits and more into a juice or smoothie, amping up not only the calories but the sugar content too.


What about dried fruits?

From dried banana chips to raisins and dates, you’ll often find dried fruits in the health food aisle, and it would be easy to assume that they are a healthier treat than the usual sugary suspects (think chocolate, sweets, and biscuits), but here’s the thing: dried fruits are actually packed full of sugar.  


Did you know, for example, that raisins are 59% sugar and dates have a sugar content as high as 66%? What’s more, between 22-51% of the sugar content in dried fruits is fructose – yep, the sugar we mentioned earlier that’s a nemesis to the liver and contributes to weight gain, heart disease, and – you guessed it – type 2 diabetes.


Add to that their smaller size means they’re easy to overeat, which in turn increases the amount of sugar you consume, resulting in a massive blood sugar spike.


As a rule of thumb: whole fruit, straight from tree, bush or plant, is the better choice.


Low-sugar fruit choices: which ones are best?

By now you might be looking at your fruit bowl a little differently. You might even be thinking that when it comes to nutrition you can’t do anything right. After all, you thought you were doing a good thing by swapping chocolate for cherries and biscuits for bananas – and you are right!


Nutritious whole foods will always trump ultra-processed options that are packed with added sugar, inflammatory fats and preservatives so good on you for making those healthy swaps. That said, you still need to proceed with some caution when it comes to fruit. 


Here’s what we want you to know about fruits going forward: it’s all about knowing which fruits to choose, and remembering to eat them in moderation (And bottom line: you should eat more vegetables than fruit each day). Your safest bet is to look for fruits that are Low GL. These fruits are digested more slowly and cause a much less significant rise in your blood sugar levels.


Ready to build on those healthy habits you’ve already accrued? Great…


Here are some of the best low-sugar/low-GI fruit options:

  • Apples
  • Berries – Strawberries, blackberries etc.
  • Apricots
  • Nectarines
  • Limes
  • Peaches
  • Lemons


The verdict

So, are fruits a diabetic-friendly food? 


Let’s be clear here: we’re not outlawing fruit. Far from it. Fruits can be an excellent source of antioxidants and fibre, and they’re certainly a smarter choice when compared to the sugar-loaded bars and biccies that line the shelves at your local store, but unless it’s low-sugar/GL (like the fruits we’ve listed above) it’s best not to snack on fruits or over-consume them.


If you do find yourself reaching for fruit on the regular, try adding protein or fats to it, or better yet, replace it with a vegetable (It’s hard to beat the crunch of a carrot stick or the subtle kick of some freshly roasted bell peppers.)


Small tweaks like these can make fruits a more friendly food if you’re diabetic


It might be hard to imagine making it through the day without something sugary but stick with it, because here’s the thing: over time you can retrain your palate. 


Pretty soon, sweet foods won’t have the same hold over you and your blood sugars will thank you.


Your mission, if you choose to accept it…

Consider this a challenge: think about the fruity snacks you have on a daily basis. What tasty and wholesome veggie-based snacks could you replace them with?

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