A person with diabetes needs to carefully consider the contents of each meal. While fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of essential nutrients, some can cause blood sugar spikes. How safe are bananas for people with diabetes?

For the most part, eating bananas in moderation is safe for people diabetes.

Bananas grow on plants that can have anywhere from 50 to 150 bananas in each bunch. Stores sell individual bananas in varying sizes, from small to extra large.

People with diabetes can use the glycemic index (GI) to consider the blood glucose impact of a food type. This ranking system gives an idea of the speed at which certain carbohydrates boost blood sugar. Bananas are low-GI. According to the international GI database, ripe bananas have a GI score of 51.

Low-GI foods have a score of 55 or less. People with diabetes can enjoy them as long as they carefully consider portion size.

In this article, we look at why bananas are safe for those who have diabetes and their nutritional benefits.

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People with diabetes can eat bananas in moderation.

A person can include well-controlled amounts of banana in the diet if they have diabetes.

The vitamin, mineral and fiber content in banana can add nutritional benefit for people with diabetes, as long as an individual does not eat excessive portions.

Authors of a small study in 2014 gave 250- or 500-gram (g) breakfast servings of banana to fifteen participants with type 2 diabetes and 30 with high cholesterol levels in their blood.

They found that the banana serving did not have significant effects on blood glucose directly after eating, but eating the servings every morning significantly reduced fasting blood glucose.

However, the study authors accept that a larger study would be necessary to confirm the glucose-reducing effect of bananas in a clinically useful way.

A 2017 cohort study of 0.5 million participants suggests that although lower-glycemic-index (GI) fruits are safer for people with diabetes than higher-GI fruits, both can help a person reduce the risk of diabetes developing in the first place.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggest that people with diabetes should incorporate fruit into a controlled diet, such as eating a small piece of whole fruit or a half-serving of large fruit with each meal as a dessert.

Cooking and preparation

The preparation of some processed banana products might make them less suitable for people with diabetes.

For example, some food manufacturers will market dried banana chips as a healthful treat or snack.

However, these may contain added sugars or syrups to enhance flavor. Eating a serving of banana chips is more likely to cause a blood sugar spike than snacking on a small, fresh banana.

Be sure to carefully read nutrition labels and limit or avoid dried fruits that have added sugar.

The following tips may help a person with diabetes safely include bananas into meal and snack times.

Pair bananas with a "healthy" fat or protein source

Eating a banana alongside a source of unsaturated fat, such as almond or peanut butter, pistachios, sunflower seeds, or walnuts, can have a positive impact on blood sugar as well as boost the flavor.

Another healthful option for people with diabetes is to pair a banana with a protein source, such as Greek yogurt.

This will help a person feel fuller for longer and reduce the urge to snack throughout the day, helping them regulate blood sugar.

Consider eating an under-ripe banana

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Unripe bananas may increase blood sugar more slowly than ripe bananas.

Unripe bananas might release glucose at a slower rate than ripe bananas.

In 1992, an older study of ten subjects with diabetes looked at banana ripeness in regards to blood sugar. The researchers found that green or unripe bananas tended to have a slower effect on blood sugar than ripe bananas.

Unripe bananas contain more starch when compared to ripe bananas. The body cannot break down starches as easily as less complex sugars. This leads to a slower, more controllable increase in blood sugar.

Eat smaller bananas

Portion control can influence the amount of sugar a person consumes in a banana.

Bananas are available in many sizes. A person will take in fewer carbs if they choose a smaller banana.

For example, a small banana that is 6–7 inches long has 23.07 grams (g) of carbohydrates per serving, while an extra-large banana has just under 35 g of carbohydrates.

How many can you eat per day?

The answer to this question depends on the individual, their activity level, and how bananas change their blood sugar.

Some people's blood glucose may be more sensitive to bananas than others. Knowing how bananas affect a particular individual's blood sugar can help them manage their medicines and insulin shots, if necessary.

Speak to your doctor or registered dietitian about including bananas in a diabetes meal plan.

Read more about the relationship between fruit and diabetes here.

Keep track of carbs

One medium-sized, 7–8-inch banana on its own contains approximately 26 g of carbs. Work with a healthcare team to define your target carb intake.

The doctor or dietitian will educate an individual on effective portion control and controlling the intake of fiber, proteins, fats, and carbs in a practical way.

A person should follow their diabetes meal plan closely.

Bear in mind that eating a banana alongside another source of carbohydrates, such as a piece of toast or cereal, means that the overall carb intake from that meal is higher. Depending on nutritional advice from the doctor, it may be necessary to swap out carbs in a later meal.

Alternatively, after eating a meal that is lighter on carbs, you can spend the carbs you've saved on a small banana as a snack.

This will ensure no one meal or snack supplies too many carbohydrates.

Overall, bananas are low in saturated fat and sodium, nutrient-dense, and rich in fiber.

They are also a key source of potassium, a mineral that helps balance sodium levels in the blood.

Bananas also have a good mix of other nutrients, including:

Bananas are a safe and nutritious fruit for people with diabetes to eat in moderation as part of a balanced, individualized diet plan.

A person with diabetes should include fresh, plant food options in the diet, such as fruits and vegetables.

Bananas provide plenty of nutrition without adding many calories.

For an exact diet plan, it is a good idea to speak to a registered dietitian or diabetes specialist.

Q:

I know bananas contain a lot of potassium. Does this help to reduce the effects of diabetes?

A:

Potassium is an important nutrient for many processes in the body, such as regulating nerve signals, balancing fluid levels, and supporting muscle contraction.

Potassium can be helpful in decreasing complications from diabetes and managing comorbidities, including high blood pressure.

It is an important nutrient for decreasing cardiovascular risks, which are often present in those with poorly managed diabetes. Including more fruits and vegetables with important micronutrients, such as potassium, can have a positive impact on diabetes management.

Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.