Like many people, you probably grew up hearing how important it is to eat your fruits and vegetables. However, when blood sugar becomes a concern, it’s not always easy to know which fruits and veggies are best for keeping your insulin levels stable. For example, take bananas — they contain natural sugars, leading many people with diabetes to believe they should never consume these fruits.
“I’ve heard bananas are worse than Snickers bars,” said one DiabetesTeam member. Another said they limit how much they have: “I maybe eat only one or two bananas per year (or even just half of one I share with either my spouse or my stepson).”
Fortunately, it’s fine to enjoy any food including bananas — as long as you watch your portion sizes, balance your plate, and monitor your blood sugar.
Every food has a value on the glycemic index scale, which represents its immediate impact on blood sugar levels. Experts encourage people with diabetes to choose foods with generally low glycemic index scores to avoid blood sugar spikes. Although bananas are often considered sweet, they rank low on the glycemic index rating system, with a value of 51 for ripe bananas and 42 for green bananas.
Bananas contain resistant starch, which is similar to fiber. Resistant starch slows digestion and blunts the release of sugar into the bloodstream. As bananas ripen, some of their resistant starch content is converted to sugar. Ripeness is related to sugar content, so that’s why spotted bananas have a slightly greater effect on blood sugar levels than unripe bananas.
A healthy diabetes diet is all about achieving the right nutritional balance for your body. The total number of carbs in your meal or snack determines how much your blood sugar increases.
Half a medium banana provides about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Dipping it in chocolate, slicing it over cereal with added sugar, or washing it down with a glass of apple juice raises your total carbs for that one sitting. Instead, balance your banana by having it as a stand-alone snack before exercise or with a handful of walnuts or some Greek yogurt.
Just because you have diabetes, there’s no reason to fear nutritious fruits like bananas. In fact, studies show that bananas — particularly green ones — promote weight loss and insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. Bananas are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium, a winning combination for heart health and blood pressure management. Because people with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease, it’s important to find opportunities to add some healthy fruit to your day. For example, mashed banana can take the place of oil and butter in muffins and cookies. Adding a small banana to a green smoothie with nutrient-rich vegetables, like spinach, lends some sweetness.
Bananas make a great portable snack to help fuel your workouts and satisfy your sweet tooth. Just be mindful of portion sizes — start with half a medium banana and see how it affects your blood glucose levels.
The best way to learn how your body responds to different foods is by testing your blood sugar. Your health care provider should have shown you how to use a glucose meter to check your numbers. However, it can take practice to feel comfortable testing your blood, so don’t hesitate to ask for another review if needed. Individual goals vary, but the usual blood sugar targets are 80 to 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) while fasting and under 180 mg/dl within two hours after eating.
Testing frequently and writing down your numbers can teach you a lot about your body, especially when you’re newly diagnosed or trying a new medication. You can also take notes on your food intake and exercise habits to get a better picture of your overall blood sugar control. Reviewing this information with your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you develop an individualized diabetes management plan.
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Have you noticed the way bananas and other fruits affect your blood sugar? What are your strategies for keeping blood sugar stable while getting the health benefits of fruits? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.