When it comes to raisins, I’m often asked the question, “Is it ok to eat raisins if you have diabetes?” or “Will eating raisins increase my blood sugar?” Since there seems to be confusion, I thought a quick review of diabetes and raisins would help to set the record straight.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that is characterized by high levels of blood glucose (sugar). There are two types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t produce insulin, or there is a problem with how the body’s cells respond to it. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can’t keep up with the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Approximately 85-90% of people with diabetes are type 2 diabetics. Unlike type 1 diabetes, the onset of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by making lifestyle changes that focus on diet, body weight, and physical activity.
Diabetics follow a treatment plan prescribed by their health care team that includes a primary care physician, endocrinologist, registered nurse, and registered dietitian/nutritionist. The overall goal is to stabilize blood glucose levels. Depending on the individual, recommendations may include taking insulin or other medications, dietary modifications, exercise, weight reduction, and smoking cessation. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health complications.
The glycemic index (GI) is a relative ranking of carbohydrate foods on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after you eat them. Foods with a high GI are rapidly digested and absorbed and cause significant fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, because of their slow digestion and absorption, produce a gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health.
Incorporating lower glycemic foods into an eating plan can improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2). Low GI diets may also have benefits for weight control because they help curb appetite and delay hunger.
Turns out, that despite their naturally occurring sugar content, raisins are considered to be a low-to-moderate glycemic food. An added bonus is that raisins contain no fat, saturated fat or cholesterol, and are packed with health-promoting nutrients like fiber, antioxidants and potassium. All of these attributes make raisins a great food choice for diabetics—and healthy individuals too!
The proof is in the pudding (raisin pudding, of course). Just as the type and duration of physical activity can have varying effects on blood glucose levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes, so can different types of foods. A 12-week research study* on 51 individuals with type 2 diabetes evaluated the impact of routine consumption of raisins versus alternative processed snacks on glucose levels and other cardiovascular risk factors. The results showed that compared to the snack group, those who ate just one ounce of raisins three times a day, had a reduction in blood glucose levels. Another positive outcome was that systolic blood pressure was significantly reduced in the raisin eating group. Overall, these data support raisins as a healthy alternative compare to processed snacks in patients with type 2 diabetes. So the answer is TRUE! Raisins Help Lower Fasting Blood Glucose More Than Other Snack Foods.
10 Ways to Incorporate Raisins into Your Eating Plan
- Use raisins, nuts, and fruit in oatmeal or overnight oats.
- Add raisins to buckwheat pancakes to sweeten (in place of syrup).
- Add raisins to muffins or granola bars.
- Make your own trail mix with your favorite nuts and raisins.
- Mix raisins into brown or basmati rice, couscous or quinoa.
- Sauté your favorite veggies with raisins for a caramelized sweetness.
- Sprinkle Sun-Maid Raisin Salad Toppings on a mixed green, fruit, or chicken salad.
- Add raisins to mashed sweet potatoes.
- Use raisins to make a sweet and savory sauce for beef or pork.
- Add raisins to coleslaw using the following recipe:
Tropical Slaw Recipe: Finely shred ½ small head cabbage, 1 large carrot and 2 green onions. Dice 1 small sweet bell pepper. Put all ingredients in a large bowl, and toss in ½ cup raisins and ½ cup fresh mango. In a bowl, mix 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Pour mixture over coleslaw mix and toss together until well coated.
*Bays H, Weiter K, Anderson J. A randomized study of raisins versus alternative snacks on glycemic control and other cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. The Physician and Sportsmedicine (2015), 43(1):37-43.