November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Here, Dr. Suzanne Nelson explains how raisins can still be enjoyed by diabetics because they are a low glycemic index food—they don’t cause sharp spikes to blood glucose.
RAISINS AND DIABETES
Recently, while answering consumer-related health questions at a Sun-Maid exhibit booth, I was approached by a middle-aged woman. She said “I’m so disappointed, I love Sun-Maid raisins but I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and can’t eat them anymore because they’re high in sugar.” I quickly responded, ” I’ve got great news for you! Let me explain.”
The reality is that including raisins in your diet is completely acceptable even when you’re trying to control your blood sugar levels. The key is to balance your intake of carbohydrates with fat and protein to prevent major blood glucose fluctuations.
If you’re following a carbohydrate exchange meal plan to help control your diabetes, 2 tablespoons of raisins count as a single carbohydrate exchange, or approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates. You can use one serving of raisins in place of any other carbohydrate source in a given meal, such as a 15-gram serving of grains, starch or dairy. Note: Always check food labels – unlike Sun-Maid, some manufacturers add sugar to raisins.
Another important tool for diabetics to use is the glycemic index, which is a measure of how your blood sugar may respond to different foods. Certain types of foods have a low glycemic index, meaning that they do not cause sharp spikes in blood glucose levels. Raisins help contribute to blood glucose control because they have a relatively low glycemic index compared to other food and they also contain fiber and antioxidants.
THE PROOF IS IN THE RAISIN PUDDING
Researchers studied 46 adults who had slight increases in glucose levels but no previous diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. They were divided into two groups: The first group was instructed to snack on raisins three times per day for 12 weeks, while the second group ate snacks that did not contain raisins or other fruits or vegetables.
The findings were very interesting. Researchers found that snacking on raisins reduced blood glucose levels by 16% compared to the control group. This favorable glucose effect of raisins was further supported by a significant reduction in hemoglobin A1c (a standard blood test for overall blood sugar control in diabetes mellitus) in the first group that ate raisins. By reducing blood sugar and maintaining normal hemoglobin A1c levels diabetics can help prevent long-term damage to their heart and circulatory system.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Diabetes is a chronic condition that is characterized by high levels of blood sugar (glucose). When we eat carbohydrates, our digestive system breaks them down into sugar—also known as glucose. The glucose gets absorbed into the blood stream. The bloodstream delivers glucose to the cells in the body. In non-diabetic individuals, the pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which is the “key” that opens cell “doors”, and allows glucose to travel from the bloodstream into the cells. In this way, blood glucose levels are regulated.
However, with diabetes this scenario changes. There are two types of diabetes: in the first type (type 1 diabetes), the pancreas can’t produce insulin. Without insulin, the cell “doors” are locked and glucose cannot get in. In the second type (type 2 diabetes), the lock on the “door” is broken (that’s called insulin resistance) and won’t respond to the insulin “keys”. So the glucose stays in the blood stream.
Approximately 85-90% of people with diabetes are type 2 diabetics. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans has type 2 diabetes. It’s often referred to as a ‘lifestyle disease’ because the main factors that lead to the onset of this condition are overweight, obesity, and a lack of physical activity. Unlike type 1 diabetes, the onset of type 2 diabetes can actually be delayed, or even prevented by adopting a regular exercise routine and making necessary dietary changes. If indicated, medications may also be used to lower blood glucose levels.
Managing diabetes takes patience and some fine-tuning but the health benefits are well worth the time and dedication.
- Regular exercise by itself can cut diabetes risk. Choose activities that you enjoy and do them every day.
- Working towards a healthy weight is the best thing you can do to lower your risk of diabetes. Along with being active, eating smaller portions of healthy foods is key.
- Choose healthy fats. A diet rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Canola oil and olive oil are great choices, as are the fats in avocados, nuts, and seeds.
- Include high quality protein from lean meats and poultry and vegetables sources along with heart-healthy fats from omega-3 rich fish like salmon.
- Reduce refined carbs from processed foods and sweetened beverages. White bread, white rice, white pasta and sugary soft drinks, fruit punch and fruit juice. Focus on eating controlled amounts of carbohydrate for meals and snacks from a variety of vegetables, fresh fruit, dried fruit (without added sugar) and whole grains.
TIPS TO UP YOUR RAISIN INTAKE
- Add raisins to your favorite bowl of whole grain cereal
- Mix raisins and nuts into oatmeal
- Sprinkle raisins on salads
- Add raisins to non-fat or low fat plain Greek yogurt
- Prepare snack sized (2T) baggies for when you’re on the go
- Make your own trail mix with favorite nuts and Sun-Maid raisins
- Mix raisins into your favorite grain dishes for a subtle hint of sweetness
- Try whole-grain raisin bagels with peanut butter and raisins
- Sautee raisins with your favorite veggies
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.