If you have diabetes, you must avoid all sugar, right? Actually, you have room for a sweet treat every now and then as long as you follow a healthy diet. Restricting yourself from eating any sugar can cause you to impulsively overeat whatever it is you’re craving. So, eating a healthy portion of something sweet is a good thing. One sugary food may even help you maintain healthy blood glucose levels: raisins.
This might sound odd at first. Most of us don’t think about the health benefits of raisins very often. However, a study published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine Journal found that raisins are an excellent snack for people with type 2 diabetes because they don’t cause a blood sugar spike.
A Closer Look at the Research
To determine whether raisins would make a good snack for diabetes, a research team from the Louisville Metabolic and Atherosclerotic Research Center recruited 51 participants. Over the course of 12 weeks, some of the participants snacked on dark raisins while others ate processed snacks.
Just one ounce of raisins per day reduced participants’ glucose levels after meals by an impressive 23 percent. In addition, those who ate raisins experienced a 19 percent reduction in their fasting glucose levels as compared to those who ate processed snacks.
Better blood sugar levels weren’t the only benefit. The raisin eaters also experienced a reduction in their systolic blood pressure (the top number), though they didn’t experience a notable reduction in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). This supports previous research which suggests that raisins are important for heart health as well.
While the participants who ate raisins didn’t experience other significant changes, like lower body weight, fasting insulin levels, or lower cholesterol levels, the researchers concluded that the health benefits of raisins were still significant. “These data support raisins as a healthy alternative compare[d] to processed snacks in patients with [type 2 diabetes mellitus],” the study authors wrote.
Why are raisins good for you if you have diabetes?
According to Mary Dragon, a nutrition counselor and owner of The Barn Nutrition and Fitness, raisins have a medium glycemic index of about 66. That may explain in part why they don’t cause a huge blood sugar spike. Research from the Journal of Nutritional Science notes that raisins are high in fructose, which doesn’t enter the bloodstream in the way that glucose does. Instead, the liver processes fructose.
In addition, raisins contain fiber and antioxidants. Fiber is an important nutrient for diabetics to eat because it helps slow digestion and the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. Antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress in the body, which contributes to inflammation and insulin resistance. In effect, a diet high in antioxidants may protect against insulin resistance.
“Raisins are nature’s candy!” Dragon says. “However, use them sparingly. A quarter cup added to oatmeal or mixed in a trail mix is what I recommend to my clients. They still come with sugar. Moderation is key.”
Indeed, moderation is important when it comes to raisins. One ounce contains 18.5 grams of sugar. But don’t worry – the study showed that one ounce wasn’t enough to cause a blood sugar spike. If you’re still worried, mix your raisins in with other foods, or simply eat a smaller portion. Try half an ounce daily, for example. Just don’t deprive yourself of sugar entirely.