Fruits and diabetes: The right serving

People with diabetes, though, need to make smart choices about which fruits they eat and the quantities that they eat. (Photo: Pexels)

We know you sometimes have burning questions that can best be answered by a pharmacist. Our feature, Ask Your Pharmacist, seeks to address some of those issues. Send your questions to healthandwealth@jamaicaobserver.com.

Question: I love mangoes and all other tropical fruits that bear in the summer. Do I have to stop eating them because I am diabetic?

Answer: Summer in the tropics is an exciting time! The weather is absolutely gorgeous – bright sunshine, afternoon showers, pristine blue beaches – and there are lots of sweet, juicy, ripe fruit. If you are diabetic, though, what does this mean for you and these delicious tropical summer fruits? Do you have to bypass the mangoes, pineapples, and watermelons? Fortunately, you don’t have to.

We all know that tropical fruits are sweet, especially when they are properly ripened. We generally tend to think that sweet things, including fruits, are not good for diabetics. However, the American Diabetes Association reports that any fruit is fine for a person with diabetes, so long as that person is not allergic to that type of fruit. In fact, studies have found that a higher fruit intake is significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Most guidelines recommend that adults and children eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This is still true for people with diabetes.

People with diabetes, though, need to make smart choices about which fruits they eat and the quantities that they eat. Most fruits will not cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar. However, very ripe bananas, watermelons, pineapples, mangoes, papayas, oranges, and grapes will cause your blood sugar to spike. Berries have a lesser impact on your blood sugar. When eating fruit, just be mindful of your serving sizes. One serving of fresh fruit is approximately the amount that can fit into the palm of an adult hand. You can eat five servings a day. Also, spread out your fruit intake throughout the day to prevent any rapid spikes in blood sugar.

Fruits do have natural sugars. However, the sugar in fruits (fructose) is accompanied by fibre, vitamins, minerals, and so many other nutrients that are good for our bodies. Fiber helps to slow digestion and prevent a blood sugar spike. The high fiber and water content of fruits will help you to feel fuller. The natural sugar in fruits is different from the “free sugars” found in cakes, candy, and juice. These “free sugars” will be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and will cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels. These “free sugars” should be avoided.

While all fruits are permissible, not all fruits are equally healthy. Fresh or frozen fruits, or fruits packed in their own juice, are better than processed fruits from a can or jar. Processed fruit tends to contain added sugars and this can cause a spike in blood sugar. Fruit juice and smoothies might sound healthy, but they have all the fiber removed during the juicing process and they might have added sugars. Remember fiber helps us to feel fuller and slow down the absorption of the sugars from fruits. In the absence of fibre, we will tend to drink a lot of fruit juice in a small amount of time, sending loads of sugar into our bloodstream quickly. For example, if you eat one orange with the pulp, you feel satisfied. But if you are to make a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, you might find that you have to juice five or six oranges. That is your daily quota of fruit all in one go and that will definitely lead to a hike in your blood sugar.

In conclusion, a person with diabetes should not avoid fruit in general, since it is an important part of a balanced diet. So, eat more fruits, but cut down on your other sources of carbs. Also, spread out your fruits throughout the day so you are not eating too many carbs in one go. Ideally, diabetic patients should look to cut other carbs from their diet and leave fruit as part of their normal dietary routine.

Novia Jerry Stewart, MSc, RPh, is a pharmacist who specializes in diabetes care. She may be contacted for diabetes care coaching sessions at diabetescarepharmacist@gmail.com

Novia Jerry Stewart

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