The Truth About Fruit: Should You Avoid High Glycemic Fruit?

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high glycemic fruit

A recent epidemiological study of half a million individuals found that increased fresh fruit consumption “was associated with a lower incidence of diabetes, as well as reduced occurrence of complications in people with diabetes, in a Chinese population.”  Fruit has been widely researched and the list of benefits are astounding:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Prevents some types of cancer
  • Lowers risk of eye and digestive problems
  • Manages hunger
  • Satisfies your sweet tooth
  • May reduce the risk of obesity
  • Low in calories

While we know that fruit is part of a healthy diet, when we talk about specific types of fruit, it creates some gray areas.  Many diet programs, weight loss books and health professionals warn against eating high glycemic fruit – those that can raise blood sugar quickly.  

So what are the facts?  Should you avoid some types of fruit?  Is eating a banana as bad as grabbing a piece of cake?

What Are Glycemic Fruits?

High glycemic fruits are treated like the ugly step-sister – avoided and shunned by some. So what are they?

Bananas
Mangos
Papaya
Pineapple
Black grapes

For a full listing of foods on the glycemic index check out The University of Sydney Glycemic Index.

Many types of tropical fruit are also considered ‘high glycemic’.  Realize that the sugary sweetness of these fruits increases as they ripen, so they may be considered ‘moderate’ when less ripe and ‘high’ when very ripe.  Therefore, eating a banana when it still has the tint of green at the stem means it will have a lower blood glucose response than when it is beginning to brown.

The Truth About Fruit

high glycemic fruitToday, I want to shed some light on the topic of high glycemic fruits.  I believe that we should make decisions based on sound information, not fear.  If we choose not to eat a certain type of fruit, let’s do it because of solid research instead of the warning of our ‘good-intentioned’ friend!

Let’s begin by breaking down the lingo

The glycemic index is a number given to a food that gives you an idea of how fast your blood sugar will rise after eating the food.  While this sounds good, it doesn’t give an accurate picture.  There are a few problems with making food choices solely based on the glycemic index:

  1. It does not account for how much you eat!  1 cup, 2 cups, 3 cups?
  2. It does not account for what you are eating during the meal.  Fruit with yogurt?  Fruit as a part of dinner?

This is what you NEED to know

Fruit eaten alone will raise your blood sugar, some more than others.

The fiber in fruit (which varies among types) slows the rise in your blood glucose. The higher the fiber, the better!

Eating fruit with healthy fats (like nuts or nut butters) and/or protein (plain yogurt, cottage cheese) slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream.

Essentially, what you eat with fruit makes a difference, and how much you eat in one sitting matters!

Fruit: “Don’t label me!”

high glycemic fruitTo call fruit good or bad, high glycemic or low glycemic is too simplistic and inaccurate. What we need to do is think about how to incorporate fruit as a part of our diet.  

Yes, if you eat a plate of fruit for a “light lunch”, your blood sugar will rise pretty high, regardless of what type of fruit.  But, if you re-evaluate your meal and eat fruit on a green salad with grilled chicken and a vinaigrette, your blood glucose will rise much slower and not very high.  

It’s important to note just because we grab 1 piece of fruit doesn’t mean it is 1 serving. Take a glance around your grocery store produce department and you can find apples the size of tennis balls and some that are the size of soft balls.  If you grab an 8” long banana, it is actually 2 servings, not one.

No one wants to get out measuring cups all the time.  The best visual aid is to use your fist or think of the size of a tennis ball (for those, like my husband, who have larger hands) to assess an appropriate portion of fruit.  

So, What Do We Do With High Glycemic Fruits?

High glycemic fruits don’t need to be eliminated completely from your diet. When God looked at all the plants, trees and vegetation He created and called it “Good”, that includes the banana and mango trees.  He told Adam that all of this was here for him to eat.

If we decide to eliminate anything from our diet, we first should begin with processed foods and sugary beverages.  If it grows in the ground or is fruit from a tree, it is good. (Genesis 1:29,31)

We are also instructed, even called, to ask for and exert wisdom.  

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV)

Becoming mindful of how much fruit we are eating at one time is a great place to start. Just because some fruit is good, it doesn’t mean that more is better.  

It would also be wise to eat meals that are balanced.  That means that your plate should be portioned out in a way that will provide satiety, energy and nutrients:

  • ¼ plate- complex carbs with fiber (including fruit, whole grains, or starchy vegetables)  
  • ¼ plate- lean protein (fish, poultry, occasional red meat, dairy, eggs, vegetarian protein)
  • ½ plate- non-starchy vegetables

Even when eating a snack, you will feel much more satisfied when including protein or healthy fat along with a small piece of fruit.  The carbohydrate in the fruit is digested quickly, but the fat and protein take much longer, leaving you full for an extended period of time.

If you need some fresh ideas on how to include some of these high glycemic fruits into a balanced meal, check out these recipes:

Banana Crunch Overnight Oats
Grilled Chicken with Black Bean Mango Salsa
2 Ingredient Banana Pancakes
Thai Chicken and Pineapple Stir Fry
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Muffins (with Banana)
Strawberry Pineapple Smoothie

God doesn’t create “bad.”  He is good and He produces after Himself – only what falls in line with His character.  He does give us the choice to moderate, plan, and recognize body signals so that we can nourish our bodies in a way that honors Him.  For those who have difficulty regulating blood glucose, their body wisdom and food choices may need to look differently than someone else.  

But, there is no single fruit that is the ‘bad guy’ to your health.

So, What’s the Play Call?

Ask questions. Give attention to your body signals. Talk to your Registered Dietitian.  Seek the Lord and His infinite wisdom!

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver! (Proverbs 16:16 NIV)


References

Du H, Li L, Bennett D, Guo Y, Turnbull I, et al. (2017) Fresh fruit consumption in relation to incident diabetes and diabetic vascular complications: A 7-y prospective study of 0.5 million Chinese adults. PLOS Medicine 14(4): e1002279. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002279

Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source, Vegetables and Fruit

USDA Choose MyPlate, Fruit

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