As a Certified Nutritionist, I would like to debunk the most common myth regarding diabetes where people believe diabetics should not consume any fruits, desserts, or anything sweet.
That is not true because diabetics can eat fruits and desserts but in moderation.
The most important thing to remember about food is to always have moderation. Anything, even something healthy like water, if consumed excessively, is detrimental to our health.
The same thing goes for diabetics. Moderation is key. Other than that, there are three other important things to always keep in mind. They are:
- Glycemic Index (GI)
- Glycemic Load (GL)
- Serving size
These three aspects are interconnected and play an important role to promote blood sugar level management.
Different fruits have different levels of carbohydrates and fructose (natural sugar). During digestion, the carbohydrates also turn into sugar.
That is why fruits are high in fiber as it helps to slow down digestion to prevent blood sugar spikes.
One serving of fruit has 15 grams of carbohydrates. One serving of fruit differs from one type of fruit to another.
Some examples of one fruit serving that is equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrates are half an apple, half a banana, one cup of blackberries or raspberries, ¾ cup of blueberries, 1 ¼ cup of whole strawberries, one cup of cubed honeydew melon, and 1/8 cup of raisins.
Glycemic Index (GI)
Glycemic Index (GI) is a value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels.
The lower the Glycemic Index (GI) value, the slower the food is broken down during digestion, and thus the slower it raises the blood sugar level.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is divided into three groups:
- Low – Foods that have a GI of 55 or less
- Medium – Foods that have a GI between 56 to 69
- High – Foods that have a GI of 70 or more
A diabetic is advised to consume low and medium Glycemic Index (GI) foods.
That doesn’t mean that they cannot consume any high Glycemic Index (GI) foods. Of course they can, but it should be in moderation and not too often.
However, not all low Glycemic Index (GI) foods are healthy. A candy bar and a cup of brown rice have the same Glycemic Index (GI) value but the brown rice is highly nutritious compared to the candy bar. That’s why we have to consider the nutritious value of those foods as well.
Low Glycemic Index (GI) fruits include cherries (20), grapefruits (25), plums (40), peaches (42), grapes (53), apples (36), oranges (43), bananas (51), mangoes (51), blueberries (53), strawberries (40), dates (42), pears (35) and papayas (42).
Medium Glycemic Index (GI) fruits include pineapple (59).
High Glycemic Index (GI) fruits include watermelon (76) and cantaloupes (70).
Glycemic Load (GL)
Other than Glycemic Index (GI) and nutrition, we also have to keep the Glycemic Load (GL) of those foods in mind.
This is because different foods with the same Glycemic Index (GI) may contain different amounts of carbohydrates which affects blood sugar rise.
Glycemic Load (GL) is to simultaneously take note of the Glycemic Index (GI) value and the amount of carbohydrates in the food.
The higher the value of the Glycemic Load (GL) is, the higher the rise in blood sugar.
The Glycemic Load (GL) is to help us determine the serving size of the food. The higher the GL, the smaller the serving size should be.
The Glycemic Load (GL) is divided into three groups:
- Low – Foods that have a GL of 0 to 10
- Medium – Foods that have a GL of 11 to 19
- High – Foods that have a GL of 20 and above
One serving of watermelon and a medium-sized doughnut has a Glycemic Index (GI) value of 76. However, one serving of watermelon contains 11 grams of carbohydrates whereas the medium-sized doughnut contains 23 grams of carbohydrates.
The Glycemic Load (GL) can be easily calculated with this formula:
GL = (GI x Carbohydrates) ÷ 100
The Glycemic Load (GL) of one serving of watermelon: (76 x 11) ÷ 100 = 8
The Glycemic Load (GL) of a medium-sized doughnut: (76 x 23) ÷ 100 = 17
Although one serving of watermelon and one medium-sized doughnut have the same Glycemic Index (GI), due to its higher carbohydrate content, the Glycemic Load (GL) of the doughnut is much higher compared to the watermelon.
Healthy Ways to Eat Fruits
Portion sizes should always be taken into consideration, especially for dried fruits. Two tablespoons of raisins have the same amount of carbohydrate as a small apple.
Instead of canned fruits, we should consume fresh fruits because, in canned fruits, the fruits are soaked in syrup which will raise our blood sugar very quickly.
For dried fruits, always pay attention to the serving size and nutrition labels. This is because dried fruits often have smaller serving sizes due to their higher carbohydrate content and sometimes they have added sugar in them.
On nutrition labels, rarely would we see sugar listed as ‘sugar’. Instead, it would be listed as dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, malt syrup, sucrose, white granulated sugar, honey, agave nectar, glucose, and maltodextrin.
Fruit juices aren’t as healthy as we think it is. This is due to the absence of fiber in those juices. Remember I mentioned earlier that fiber slows down digestion to prevent blood sugar spikes. Thus, fruit juices cause very high blood sugar spikes even if they don’t contain added sugar.
Have fruit servings at separate meals instead of consuming a day’s worth of servings at one meal. We can have one serving at breakfast and another at dinner, for example.
The ripeness of the fruits should also be taken into consideration. The riper the fruit is, the higher its Glycemic Index (GI) value.
Desserts are the best part of a meal. Diabetics, however, should proceed with caution.
Now we know the importance of Glycemic Index (GI), Glycemic Load (GL), and serving sizes. The same rules apply here as well.
Desserts should be made with ingredients that have a low Glycemic Index (GI) value. Most whole foods have a low Glycemic Index (GI) such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and whole grains.
These desserts can be made by substituting sugar with either sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners.
Sugar alcohols can occur naturally or be synthetically manufactured. Examples are glycerol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, erythritol, and xylitol.
Natural sweeteners are often used to substitute sugar in recipes. Examples are stevia, nectar, fruit juices, monk fruit, honey, molasses, agave syrup, and maple syrup.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. Examples are acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and neotame. These sweeteners have an aftertaste and cause detrimental effects on health.
Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may cause an imbalance of oxidants and antioxidants in the body, and increase insulin resistance.
Fresh Fruit Desserts
Low Glycemic Index (GI) fruits like strawberries or bananas can be taken with a dollop of unsweetened yogurt or unsweetened whipped cream.
A healthy milkshake can also be done by blending milk and some frozen fruit, without sugar. The fructose in the fruit would be sufficient for the milkshake to be tasty.
Baked desserts such as muffins, cakes, and cupcakes can be made by substituting white flour with whole wheat flour or oat bran.
Almond flour or soy flour can also be used but it might differ in texture and flavour from whole-wheat flour.
As for the sugar, it should be substituted with sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners.
Chocolate chips could be substituted with dried fruits like raisins or dried apricots.
Cheesecakes can be made to be low Glycemic Index (GI) by using fresh fruits/berries, cream cheese, and eggs.
Nuts and Dried Fruits Desserts
Nuts such as walnuts, pecans, and peanuts have a low Glycemic Index (GI) due to their low carbohydrate content.
Walnuts can be added to banana muffins, made using whole-wheat flour, sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners, and bananas.
Pecans can be added to oatmeal cookies, made using whole-wheat flour, sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners, and raisins.
Peanuts can be added to oat bars, made using oats, sugar alcohols, or natural sweeteners, and a drizzle of dark chocolate on top.
Chia seeds are so low in carbohydrates that they don’t even show up on the Glycemic Index (GI). Once the chia seeds are soaked in water, they form a gel-like substance. This forms a great base for puddings when combined with milk.
For sweetness, we can use sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners, or self-pureed fresh fruits such as peaches. This makes a low Glycemic Index (GI) fruit pudding.
Chocolate coconut puddings can be made using dark chocolate, egg yolks, creamy coconut milk, and unsweetened baking chocolate.
A low Glycemic Index (GI) chocolate mousse can be made by blending unsweetened whipped cream, cocoa powder, sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners, and vanilla extract.
Vanilla ice cream can be made with heavy whipped cream, eggs, sugar alcohols or natural sweeteners, and vanilla extract.
We can then add low Glycemic Index (GI) stuff to this basic flavour according to our liking. For example, peppermint, coconut, lemon extract, almonds, pistachios, and so on.
Smoothies can be made using unsweetened yogurt, dairy milk, or any kind of plant-based milk such as soy milk, oat milk, and almond milk.
For the smoothie base, cottage cheese or any kind of unsweetened nut butter such as peanut butter and almond butter can be used as they are a low Glycemic Index (GI).
For the flavour, we can add one or more fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Smoothies are better for diabetics compared to fruit juices as smoothies still contain all the fibre from the fruits or vegetables used.
A diabetic can eat all the foods they ate prior to having diabetes. But they always have to remember moderation is the most important thing by taking into consideration the Glycemic Index (GI), Glycemic Load (GL), and serving size of the foods.
Reading nutrition labels of pre-packed food is also very important. This would help to determine the Glycemic Index (GI) of the ingredients used and the serving size.
As for any food preparation, we just have to make sure the ingredients we use have a low Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL). If the Glycemic Load (GL) is high, just reduce the serving size.
I’m a Certified Nutritionist and I’m always looking forward to helping others. If you have any questions regarding this article or any other nutrition-related questions, feel free to reach me here.
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