Good news for the diabetic sweet tooth! The American Diabetes Association has announced that you can eat almost any fruit, even bananas. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a daily consumption of between 1½ – 2 cups of fruit daily, while the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases cites bananas with other fruits that diabetics can safely add to their diets.
It is recommended that the consumption of fruit be distributed at regular times during the day in order to prevent sudden elevation in levels of blood sugar. But don’t forget the carbohydrates in fruits, and be sure to count them when you’re planning your meal.
The Concern About Carbs
Diabetics must be vigilant about the type and the amount of carbohydrates they consume. By utilizing the insulin hormone, your body breaks down carbs and converts them to glucose, providing energy and fueling cells. However, diabetics have problems with insulin, which may cause abnormally high glucose levels to flow through the bloodstream. Since almost all fruit contains a large number of carbohydrates, eating too many can dump an amount of glucose greater than the body can process. Even so, carbs are an invaluable nutrient that our bodies need to survive. The key is to manage them properly within the special dietary needs of a diabetic.
The Beneficial Banana
According to the USDA, bananas are America’s favorite fruit. This is good because they’re very beneficial as well. Bananas have a low calorie count but are high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and fiber. The fiber helps keep you feeling full and satisfies your cravings, Vitamin C enhances the immune system, Vitamin B6 boosts your mood, and potassium helps control blood pressure.
Add Bananas to Your Diabetic Diet
Yes, bananas are a great addition to the diabetic diet. Pay attention to a banana’s ripeness, however. In “Diabetic Medicine” (October 1992) it was reported that participants of a research study who were asked to eat overripe bananas experienced a rather elevated glycemic response with raised levels of blood sugar, thus requiring them to use more insulin. Participants who ate slightly unripened bananas experienced a somewhat lower glycemic reaction. Interestingly, plain white bread produced a higher blood sugar reaction than either type of banana. Ninety percent of carbs from the underripe banana reportedly came from starch, while the ripened bananas produced primarily free sugars. Therefore, the researchers recommended that bananas, particularly unripe ones, are a healthy alternative for snacks between meals for people with Type 2 diabetes.
Caution and Tips
Avoid including bananas in desserts, such as sundaes, or when they are embellished with a sugary syrup. These desserts have excess calories, carbohydrates, and fat. Instead, enjoy fresh, dried, canned, and frozen bananas. The added variety will enhance your diet, adding more freedom to your menu.
Problem Foods: Are Bananas Off-Limits for Diabetics?
While they are a great source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, bananas have received bad press, even from some doctors. A search on the internet might frequently include bananas in “informational advertisements” listing the top five foods to be avoided. Never eat? That’s a bit extreme, particularly if you’re aware of the nutritional facts about bananas.
The Skinny on Your Banana
Although bananas are cholesterol free, fat free, and sodium free, you must remember they DO contain carbohydrates! Deciding the carbohydrate count in bananas can be dicey since the count depends on the fruit’s size.
This chart can help you calculate the carbohydrate content in a banana (measure one once and then eyeball thereafter):
Smaller than 6”: 18.5g
7- 8”: 27g
More than 9”: 35g
Within that scale there will be anywhere from 2-4g of fiber for each banana, depending on its size. Obviously there will be more vitamin C, potassium, and fiber in a larger banana, but that includes a correspondingly higher content of carbohydrate. If there are 30g of carbs in an average size banana, 19g will contain sugar while the other 11g will be starch, including 3g of fiber.
One ripe banana will have a glycemic level of 51, making it a safe food since the glycemic cutoff level is at 55. Also, the banana’s ripeness alters its glycemic level. A not-ripe banana (one that has a peel with visible green areas) will contain a glycemic level of about 42, whereas a ripe banana (one with a peel that has visible flecks of brown) will contain a glycemic level of around 48. This glycemic range of between 42 to 51 isn’t that huge, but could explain why there may be some difference in your blood sugar levels after eating a banana that is ripe rather than one that is not yet ripe.
Plantains, which are the banana’s cousins, also fit the above description and have less carbs and sugar than bananas. Plantains are generally eaten either fried or cooked.
Banana chips and fried bananas are also sold either individually or included in some trail mixes, along with chocolate and nuts. Check the label for banana chips: they often have added sugar in addition to saturated fat. A serving of these chips is a half of a cup and has 20g of carbs (including 12g of additional sugar). Try to find banana chips without added sugar; then add a handful of nuts to make a tasty and healthy snack.
So, Banana or No Banana?
If you are informed and vigilant about the facts, bananas may be incorporated into a diabetic’s healthy diet. Frozen bananas are delicious blended in a smoothie or even eaten like you would a popcicle. And bananas should be considered for a snack or part of your meal. Here is a recipe you can try, but skip the honey or maple syrup. It will be a bit less sweet, but it will also have fewer carbs:
Fruit Kabobs and a Creamy Fruit Dip
To Make the Dip:
1 teaspoon of honey
1 cup thawed fat-free whipped topping
1 cup low-fat fruit flavored yogurt
To Make the Kabobs:
6-8 strawberries, whole
6-8 chunks of pineapple
1 banana, sliced into half-inch pieces
6 skewers, wooden
Mix dip by stirring together whipped topping, yogurt, and honey in a small container. Cover; refrigerate.
Alternate pieces of fruit, one of each kind, on a skewer.
Repeat until skewers are full or you run out of fruit. (Banana lovers can fill a skewer with just 7 slices of banana.)
Serve with fruit dip.
2.5 g of protein
16.5 g of carbohydrates
0.4 g of fat