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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.

You might think you think that the sugar content of fruit means that you can’t eat it. But, the sugar in fruit is natural, and is not this type of sugar we need to cut down on. This is different to the added 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 and considering a portion of fruit contains about 15–20g carbs, a chocolate muffin has 55g carbs and a small bar of chocolate has 30g carbs it is better to reduce your intake of the chocolate, cakes and other snacks than the fruit itself to help manage your blood glucose levels.

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. 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 a tablespoon and packs in 20.8g carbs, 20.8g total sugar and 82 calories you can see how easily this happens. An apple on the other hand, which takes a while to eat, contains only 11.8g carbs, 11.8g sugar and 47 calories.

Be mindful of your serving sizes too – bananas in supermarkets now seem to be supersize with a large banana containing 27.8g carbs, 25.1g sugar and 114 calories. But, most people need to cut down on foods with added sugars rather than fruit – a large banana is still better for you than a a standard chocolate bar, which contains 27.9g carbohydrate, 27.8g sugars and a staggering 260 calories.

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

We’ve mentioned fruit juice and smoothies and this is something that needs to be ideally be avoided or at least cut down on. This is because too much of our sugar intake is coming from this source. 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, carbohydrate and sugar.

A serving – 150ml (and most people’s glasses at home will contain more than this) – provides 13.2g carbs, 13.2g total sugar and 54 calories, so you can see how easily it is to take in a lot of calories and carbohydrate without really noticing.

What’s in a portion?

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.

  • Fruits in season in February include apples, cooking apples, clementine, oranges and rhubarb. The UK’s favourite, the banana, is also available and fairly cheap.
  • 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 little 0% per cent fat Greek yogurt. You could also, chop and stew them with a little water and raisins and you have a healthy desert ready to hand when you fancy something sweet.
  • Bananas can be baked to 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.

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