Fruits for diabetes: All you need to know

Many patients with diabetes suffer because they are ignorant of the exact diet to take. Experts, in this report by Sade Oguntola, say that it is necessary for patients to understand what, how, when and why they should eat fruits.

Eating fruit is a healthy way to satisfy hunger and meet daily nutritional needs. However, most fruits contain sugar, which raises questions about whether they are healthy for diabetics.

Is fruit unhealthy for people with diabetes? Certainly, fruits consumption is healthy and it should be part of everyone’s balanced diet to provide enough energy and help to maintain a healthy weight.

Some fruits such as mangoes are high in sugar, but can be part of a healthy diet as long as not too many are eaten. But, the consumption of some fruits is restricted in persons with diabetes whose blood sugar control is bad.


Fruits for people with diabetes to eat or avoid

“Not all fruits should be consumed by persons with diabetes, especially those with very sweet taste, because of their glucose and fructose content,” said Dr Adebowale Adewunmi, a consultant nephrologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).

“This is not saying that they cannot take a whole orange or apple a day because they equally need vitamin C and other nutrients present in these fruits. But we do not encourage intake of fruits like pineapple that has very high sugar content,” he said.

He said diabetics with poor sugar control are always asked to stop consuming fruits with sweet taste such as oranges and banana, till  they achieve a good blood sugar level control.

Dr Adewunmi, however, said there is no restriction in amount of fruits such as African garden egg, cucumber, carrot and grapefruit that can be consumed.

Professor Abayomi Akanji, an endocrinologist at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, United States of America, declared as incorrect the notion that diabetics should not take all kinds of fruits. “Many people essentially eat what they could find. So in general, persons living with diabetes are only asked to avoid intake of simple sugars, adding sugar to their tea, coffee or food; oily foods as well as junk foods.”

Also, the mode of preparing the food is equally important. Steamed or grilled foods are healthier than fried foods.


Amount of fruit to take

For decades, five serving of fruits is recommended per day for every individual. The size of a baseball or a small piece of orange, apple or half the size of a medium sized banana is equivalent to a fruit serving.

In persons living with diabetes, the quantity of fruits consumed is also important.  Moreover, Professor Akanji said fruits cannot be taken as a meal by a diabetic. While vegetables can serve as a meal, fruits are supposed to be like desserts.

Professor Akanji added that coloured fruits, in particular are very good because they contain chemical substances such as carotene that are important for body functions such as good eye sight.”

He cautioned however that consumption of fruits that have sweet taste should be in moderation, urging that people stay within the limit of five servings of fruits a day.

“Calories from the recommended five servings of fruits per day are not too much. Staying within this limit will not cause a spike in blood sugar level compared with say rice or bread,” he said.


Eating fruit plays a role in managing diabetes

Professor Akanji said that fruit consumption is good not only because they contain vitamins, but also antioxidants that can actually delay the progression of some complications of diabetes.

“So, I am not going to prescribe that you do not take orange, apple and so on, but that the intake of fruits should be in moderation and within the specification that your doctor or dietician has given you,” he said.

Also, he declared that fresh fruits are better than fruit juices that most times are sweetened.

Intake of fruit smoothies or homemade juices, he said must also be within limits.

“Fruit smoothies, which is blended fruit, has high fibre content and it is going to actually help to reduce blood sugar level,” he declared.

Interestingly, garden eggs and cucumbers were the best snacks for diabetics. Jummai Abdul, a dietician with Wuse Hospital, Abuja, said “If such a patient is hungry, he should go for garden egg and cucumber which serve as the best snacks for him.”

Abdul also recommended a little quantity of unripe paw-paw and grape which she said cannot increase patient’s blood sugar level.

According to her: “Patients should take all classes of nutrients including carbohydrate, protein, mineral, vitamins and vegetables such as green, pumpkin leaf, spinach, and steamed cabbage.”

She, however, warned that it was important to apply limitation in the consumption of the items.

“The quantity of food to be taken by a patient depends on the Body Mass Index (IBM) of an individual and the blood sugar level.


 Safe fruits for diabetics

  • Strawberries: Its antioxidants support good for eye sight by preventing diabetic retinopathy and diabetic cataracts.
  • Apples: Aside helping to lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels and bowel function, its anti-inflammatory effect can help diabetics to recover from infections faster.
  • Pears: Pears is rich in vitamins and minerals and a good source of fibre to help regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and improve digestive health.
  • Grapefruit: This great source of vitamin C also contains chemical substances, which can increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin and helps to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Oranges: Aside its high content of soluble fibre, oranges help to keep blood sugar levels under control and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
  • Guavas: Guavas are very low in GI and helps to keep your blood sugar levels steady and energy sustained.