September was the “Fruits & Veggies–More Matters” month. But does it matter to those of us who have diabetes?
Fewer than 1 in 7 American adults eat the recommended amount of vegetables, the U.S. government says. The recommended amount isn’t much: just 2½ cup-equivalents (2½ cups of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, 5 cups of leafy salad greens, or 11⁄4 of a cups of dried vegetables).
Significantly, what our government considers to be vegetables do not include grains, which are a separate food group. Nor does the vegetable group include nuts, seeds, and soy products, which are considered to be a protein food.
We don’t have any good reason to assume that people with diabetes in this country eat more veggies that the typical American. Nor is there any reason to think that recommended amount for people with diabetes should be any less. People with diabetes probably need to eat more veggies, but we have to choose them carefully so they won’t raise our blood glucose levels too high.
The highest glycemic vegetable
Some veggies do have a high glycemic index. Baked potatoes have so much starch that they will raise your blood glucose level even more than glucose will. Mashed and boiled potatoes, while not as unhealthy as baked potatoes, have a higher glycemic index than anything made from grain. So please, don’t take the government’s recommendation to eat more veggies as carte blanche to eat potatoes or other high glycemic veggies.
Otherwise, more certainly does matter when it comes to eating veggies. But eating more fruit may be problematic for people with diabetes.
Fruit has fructose
Unlike veggies, where the biggest problem is starch, fruits have little or none of this type of carbohydrate that will raise your blood glucose the most. Instead, all fruits have fructose, and some fruits have a lot of it. While fructose will raise our blood glucose level much less than any other sugar will, it is the most dangerous type of sugar for people with diabetes, because eating more than a small amount of it can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and high triglyceride levels.
Most experts consider the fructose in fruit to be safe. So it’s not a concern when we eat a small amount of fruit. But in order to gratify the sweet tooth have humans have, our plant breeders have been so successful in developing fruit crops that are much sweeter than those fruits found in nature that we now have several fruits that have a lot of fructose in them.
Dried fruits like raisins, dates, and figs are some of the fruits that are highest in fructose based on a 100 gram serving. Then, come some fruits with added sugar. But the big surprise for me is that red or green grapes, including Thompson seedless grapes, are the next highest among fruits. This is followed closely by several common fruit juices (grape, apple, and pomegranate) and canned pineapple. Worth mentioning too is that pears and apples are both probably too high in fructose for people with diabetes to eat more than a small amount once in a great while.
Fruit has carbohydrates
California avocados rank the lowest on the list of fructose in fruits. Many people consider avocados to be one of the healthiest fruits. But they bring up another consideration, the amount of carbohydrates that some fruits have. Of a 100 gram serving, 9 grams of California avocados are carbohydrates.
Actually, several dried fruits, followed by the fruit juices are much higher in carbohydrates than avocados. Of the raw fruits, one of my favorites, the American persimmon, is the highest in carbs, so I eat them only rarely. Beside avocados, some of our fruits that are lowest in carbs are lemons and limes.
Dried fruit, like cranberries, raisins, dates, are some of the highest fruits in carbohydrates. The amount of carbohydrates that we eat certainly does matter, because only carbs will raise our blood glucose level more than a small amount.
Melons are high glycemic
In terms of their glycemic index, two fruits are so high that I completely avoid them. They are watermelon and cantaloupe.
These considerations of carbohydrates, fructose, and the glycemic index don’t mean that people with diabetes have to avoid all fruit. Wild blueberries, for example, are famous for their high level of nutrients, and I eat a small amount of them regularly even though a standard serving has 17 grams of carbohydrates.
In fact, four fruits have so few carbohydrates that I have included them on the list of “Free Foods” that I have maintained on my personal website for the past 14 years. While dozens of vegetables are free foods, only avocados, chayote, raspberries, and strawberries meet this criterion.
The bottom line is that people who have diabetes need to avoid eating more than a small amount of dried fruits, fruit juice, or melons. Chose from the many foods you can eat that won’t raise your blood glucose level so much. For people with diabetes this is what matters.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
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