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Fruit and diabetes

Everyone should be eating more fruit and vegetables. You're probably aware of the five-a-day target, and this is equally important if you’re living with diabetes or if you’re not.

This is because fruit and vegetables are associated with lower risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers. They also provide fibre, minerals and vitamins. 

You might think that the sugar content of fruit means that you can’t eat it. But the sugar in whole fruit does not count towards free sugars, so it is not this type of sugar we need to cut down on. This is different to the free sugar in drinks, chocolate, cakes and biscuits, as well as in fruit juices and honey.

The amount of carbohydrate you eat has the biggest effect on your blood glucose levels after eating. A portion of fruit, such as a medium apple, generally contains about 15 to 20g carbs, a chocolate muffin has 55g carbs and a 500ml ordinary fizzy drink has 54g carbs. It is better to reduce your intake of chocolate, sugary drinks, cakes and other snacks than whole fruit when trying to restrict your carb intake to help manage your blood glucose levels. For people who follow a low-carb diet, it is important to identify the sources of carbs that are not healthy and cut those down first. 

It is very unlikely that you need to reduce your fruit intake but you could keep a food diary to check how often and how much fruit you are eating. Many people eat fruit infrequently, but tend to have larger portions when they do eat them, so some people find that it is easy to overdo the dried fruit, grapes and tropical fruits.

If you consider a serving of dried fruit is only a tablespoon and packs in 20g carbs total sugar, you can see how easily this happens. 

Be mindful of your serving sizes too – a large banana counts for one and half portions of fruit and contains about 30g carbs. But, most people need to cut down on foods with added sugars and refined carbs rather than whole fruit – a large banana is still better for your long-term health than a standard slice of cake, which contains about 25g carbohydrate. This is partly because the banana has no free sugar. 

Why do I need to be careful about fruit juices and smoothies?

We’ve mentioned fruit juice and smoothies and these are something that, ideally, need to be avoided or at least cut down on. This is because fruit juice and smoothies have most of the roughage removed or already broken down, so it is very easy to drink large quantities in a short space of time – and ultimately this means extra calories and carbohydrate. Having less intact fibre means fruit juices and smoothies are not as beneficial to the body compared to whole fruits. 

A serving – 150ml (and most people’s glasses at home will contain more than this) – provides about 15g carbs which counts towards free sugar, so you can see how easily it is to take in a lot of carbohydrate and free sugar without really noticing.

What’s in a portion?

As a guide, a portion of fresh fruit is one that fits into the palm of an adult hand. NHS Choices suggest the following as a guide:

Small-sized fresh fruit

One portion is two or more small fruit, for example two plums, two satsumas, two kiwi fruit, three apricots, six lychees, seven strawberries or 14 cherries.

Medium-sized fresh fruit

One portion is one piece of fruit, such as one apple, banana, pear, orange or nectarine.

Large fresh fruit

One portion is half a grapefruit, one slice of papaya, one slice of melon (5cm slice), one large slice of pineapple or two slices of mango (5cm slices).

Dried fruit

A portion of dried fruit is around 30g. This is about one heaped tablespoon of raisins, currants or sultanas, one tablespoon of mixed fruit, two figs, three prunes or one handful of dried banana chips.

Tinned fruit in natural juice

One portion is roughly the same quantity of fruit that you would eat for a fresh portion, such as two pear or peach halves, six apricot halves or eight segments of tinned grapefruit.

How can I bump up my fruit intake?

Variety is important as different coloured fruit contain their own mixture of vitamins and minerals, so ring the changes and choose as many different types as possible. Go for whatever is in season to help keep costs down, too.

Apples, clementines, bananas and rhubarb are good sources of vitamin C, which is good for boosting your immune system and wound healing.

Dried raisins are a source of iron, which is needed to make the oxygen carrying part of your blood.

Rhubarb contains calcium needed for bone formation.

Look out for kids-sized apples and ‘easy peeling’ clementines in shops and pop them into your children’s lunch boxes.

Cooking apples taste great baked with a little cinnamon and nutmeg served with a Greek yogurt. You could also chop and stew them with a little water and raisins for a healthy desert ready to hand when you fancy something sweet.

Bananas can be baked or frozen for an hour or two and then taken out to be mashed into a healthy take on ice cream.

Remember to spread your fruit intake throughout the day so you are not eating a lot of carbohydrate all in one go, which could affect blood glucose levels after eating.


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