Best Summer Produce for Diabetics

Doctor: ‘[Diabetes] can be basically reversed with a healthy lifestyle’

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Summer produce season is in full swing; it’s a great time to eat plenty local, fresh foods available at pick-your-own farms, farm stands and markets, and possibly at a home garden.

These foods can be helpful for diabetics in improving their blood sugar levels because of their low glycemic index status, among other benefits.

“[Diabetes] can be basically reversed with a healthy lifestyle,” says physician Az Tahir, who practices holistic medicine in Rochester.

He says that in addition to exercise and stress reduction — both essential for a healthy lifestyle — eating plenty of produce “is part of the protocol for helping reverse effects of diabetes.”

The glycemic index is based on a food’s carbohydrate content and how it affects blood glucose levels after a meal. According to Diabetes Self-Management (www.diabetesselfmanagement.com), “a glycemic index of 55 or lower is considered low, a glycemic index from 56 to 69 is considered intermediate, and a glycemic index of 70 or higher is considered high.”

Most vegetables and fruits are within the range of 0 to 55.

The person’s age, gender, weight, number of active minutes per week and general health affect the ideal glycemic load that their diet can bear, as well as how the produce is prepared. In general, the lower the glycemic index, the better. That’s why incorporating produce makes sense. For their volume, many fruits and vegetables are low in carbohydrates. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and naturally-occurring compounds that improve health in many ways.

Exceptions include corn and potatoes.

“Most of the other summer vegetables aren’t as starchy as corn or potatoes, so they wouldn’t likely cause a significant spike in blood glucose,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition & Counseling Services in Williamsville.

That doesn’t mean that corn and potatoes are entirely off-limits.

“Corn is pretty starchy and should likely be limited to one serving — 1/2 cup or one ear — at a time to manage blood glucose elevations after consuming,” Parker said. “It is a good source of fiber, but can still create a spike, especially if the meal is high in carbohydrate. Fat and protein can help blunt this response.”

Eating one buttered ear of corn with a grilled chicken breast, salad and mixed berries can provide a much more balanced meal than having several ears of corn with a hotdog on a bun and potato salad.

Parker advised eating banana greener, as at that point they have more fiber that can help offset the rise in blood glucose.

“Watch quantities of fruits in particular because of their natural sugar content, but go for it and enjoy those vegetables,” she said.

She recommends greens, and a variety of vegetables in many colors.

“Glucose response is always individual though, so a person can assess his or her level two hours after eating or the next morning after eating to see the likely effect of a food or meal on blood glucose,” Parker said. “It’s always best to watch trends to see patterns over time.”

The portion size also makes a difference in glycemic load per meal.

Artichoke, asparagus, cucumbers, green or wax beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, celery, onions, mushrooms, greens, lettuce, peppers, okra, zucchini, and cabbage represent good choices, according to Diabetes Self-Management.

“The most important thing is that all produce can fit into a healthy diet,” said Samantha Paolini, clinical dietitian with UBMD Pediatrics in the division of endocrinology and diabetes.

She doesn’t like labeling food as “good” or “bad” but reminds patients with diabetes that they may need to limit portion size of grapes, mangoes, oranges and bananas.

Apples, berries, peaches, tangerines, pears, cherries and plums are good examples of low-gylcemic foods she recommends.

“The low-GI foods are full of essential fiber, vitamins and minerals,” Paolini said. “Fruits and vegetables typically have a good amount of fiber. It assists our body in slowing the absorption of blood sugar. Fiber helps us feel full longer and it helps with portion control.”

Dietary recommendations can vary depending up on many health, age and co-existing condition factors. Any food can be part of a healthful diet, though diabetics need to be especially careful about balancing what they eat and how they exercise under the guidance of their healthcare providers.

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