If you have diabetes or prediabetes, you may be wondering if you can eat watermelon with your condition and do so safely. Is watermelon good for diabetes? Is it bad? What are the effects of watermelon on blood sugar? How will eating watermelon impact your condition? Can diabetics even eat watermelon and how much should they eat to not risk side effects?
Watermelon is naturally sweet and, while not very high in sugar, it has a high glycemic impact. While otherwise healthy, it represents a major concern in a diabetic diet because of its effects on blood sugar. If you are diabetic, then watermelon is one of those fruits you have likely been told to avoid. But should you actually?
Can diabetics eat watermelon?
Diabetics can definitely eat watermelon, but in very small amounts, ideally also infrequently or at least not every single day. What makes watermelon good for diabetes is its low energetic value – because it’s low in calories, watermelon helps create a calorie deficit that is conducive to weight loss. Losing excess weight is actually good for diabetes because it helps improve parameters of the disease such as insulin resistance and glucose intolerance and allows the diabetic patient to achieve better blood sugar control. Reaching a normal weight can even reverse type 2 diabetes completely.
Also, despite having an extremely sweet taste, watermelon is not high in carbs or sugar. The fruit can be considered to have a moderate to moderately low content of carbohydrates and sugar which is a good thing because it means it is an acceptable choice in a diabetic diet whose success is dependent on carbohydrate restriction.
The fruit holds other benefits for diabetes too such as benefits for high blood pressure owed to a good content of potassium, and has excellent antioxidant value for systemic benefits which is a major health goal for diabetics.
At the same time, eating watermelon can cause blood sugar spikes if you have too much of it at once. The recommended intake of the fruit in a diabetes diet is generally very low, limited to small amounts of the likes of 100-150 grams per serving at one or two servings per day. Anything beyond a very low intake is considered a dietary excess and comes with side effects.
For example, too much watermelon in diabetes causes spikes in blood sugar levels and ‘too much’ can mean as little as 150 grams of the fruit. So the real question we should be asking is not if diabetics can eat watermelon, but rather how much watermelon can you eat if you have diabetes so that you don’t run risks of side effects?
More on eating watermelon with diabetes
- Watermelon is a fruit that is merely allowed in a diabetic diet in very limited amounts, not expressly recommended for consumption. Watermelon does not treat or cure diabetes. Instead, it has the potential to worsen it if intakes are unreasonable.
- Not all diabetics can eat watermelon. Technically, anyone can eat watermelon if intakes are small enough. But there are instances when even small amounts produce side effects in which case you can say that not everyone can eat watermelon, as in eat it and feel well. Despite its good nutritional value and generally great benefits for health, watermelon may be poorly tolerated in a diabetic diet. What this means is that while some diabetics may be able to eat limited amounts and feel good, others may not be able to eat it at all without experiencing some range of side effects.
- There is no way to tell for sure how eating watermelon will impact you individually. Effects may vary depending on how much watermelon you have at once and how frequently you have it, how well managed your condition is (e.g. degree of insulin resistance, glucose intolerance), what you eat besides watermelon and what you eat it with. Your individual nutritional requirements also matter, for example, your maximum daily recommended intake of carbohydrates and sugar.
- It is best to talk to your doctor or a dietitian specialized in diabetic nutrition to learn if you can introduce the fruit in your diet right now, how much of it you can eat safely or whether you need to make some changes to your diet first before introducing watermelon in your diet without so that you don’t unnecessarily raise your carb intake and spike your blood sugar.
Watermelon nutrition facts for diabetes
Watermelon carbohydrate content
- How many carbs in watermelon?
- A serving of 100 grams of watermelon contains 7.55 grams of carbohydrates
- One (1) cup of diced watermelon (estimated weight: 152 grams) provides 11.48 grams of carbohydrates.
- One (1) watermelon wedge from a 4.5 kg (kilograms) watermelon (estimated weight of wedge: 286 grams or 1/16 wedges) provides 21.59 grams of carbohydrates.
Because digestible carbohydrates get broken down into sugar following digestion, contributing to blood sugar levels, a diabetic person has to watch their daily carbohydrate intake from food.
Watermelon sugar content
- How much sugar in watermelon?
- Of a total of 7.55 grams of carbs per 100 grams of watermelon, 6.2 grams are sugars.
- One (1) cup of diced watermelon (estimated weight: 152 grams of fruit) contains 9.42 grams of sugar.
- One (1) watermelon wedge from a 4.5 kg watermelon (286 grams or 1/16 wedges) has 17.73 grams of sugar.
Considering how sweet watermelon is, whether it’s yellow fleshed watermelon or regular pink or red, or orange fleshed watermelon or white dessert watermelon, its content of sugar is not at all excessive, but rather moderate. Believe it or not, watermelon has half the carbs and sugar content of cherries, for example. Also find out if diabetics can eat cherries.
The main types of sugar in watermelon are fructose and glucose, two simple sugars. These are absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and are a potential source of blood sugar spikes if you eat too much of the fruit at once. Too much may mean one large wedge or as little as half a cup, depending on the person.
Is the sugar in watermelon good for diabetes?
You might read or hear that watermelon is good for diabetes because it has natural sugar. Know that that’s simply not true. Sugar is still sugar, whether it’s table sugar or sugar from fruit. The sugars occurring naturally in watermelon, fructose and glucose, are the same sugars that make up sucrose which is table sugar.
The human body will break down both of them and not differentiate between sources, despite the fact that watermelon is definitely healthier than table sugar. There will be a spike in blood sugar levels if you simply eat too much. This is why it’s important to measure and limit portion sizes, especially when you have diabetes.
Watermelon glycemic index: 72 (high)
The glycemic index, GI, is a numerical scale that measures how much the sugar obtained from any given food raises blood sugar levels. A GI below 55 is low. A GI between 55 and 69 is moderate. A GI between 70 and 100 is high. Watermelon has a high glycemic index score of 72.
This means that eating even small amounts has the potential to cause spikes in blood sugar levels. And this high GI score is the reason why watermelon is viewed as a bad food for diabetics. In this respect, pears or plums seem like better fruits to eat with and for diabetes because of their low GI score, although they still need to be consumed in limited amounts too.
Watermelon glycemic load: 5 (low)
The glycemic load, GL, is a numerical scale that estimates how much a portion of a certain food raises blood sugar levels. The GL is determined by multiplying the glycemic index of a food with the number of carbohydrates in a serving, then dividing by 100. A GL of 10 or less is low. A GL of 11 tp 19 is moderate. A GL of 20 and over is high.
For watermelon, the glycemic index (72) multiplied by the number of carbs in a serving of 100 grams of the fruit (7.55) then divided by 100 results in an estimated glycemic load of 5 which is a low score, favorable to diabetics.
According to the GL theory, eating 100 grams of watermelon which contains 7.55 grams of total carbohydrates of which 6.2 grams are sugars has the actual estimated effect of eating only 5 grams of glucose. This shows that watermelon can be consumed safely with diabetes given intakes are limited to small amounts.
- How many calories in watermelon?
- A serving of 100 grams of the fruit has just 30 kcal (kilocalories, calories).
- One (1) cup of diced watermelon (estimated weight: 152 grams) has only 46 kcal.
- One (1) watermelon wedge (estimated at 286 grams) has just 86 kcal.
When you have diabetes, you have to have a general idea of your daily calorie intake in addition to your total carbohydrate and sugar intake. Managing how many calories you eat daily is important to counteract and correct weight gain.
Excess weight is both a risk factor for diabetes, and a source of complications for the condition. From this point of view and this alone, watermelon is a good fruit for diabetes in the sense that it won’t cause weight gain and can even help you lose weight by helping you achieve a calorie deficit.
Other nutritional information
Watermelon is a particularly good source of vitamin C (8.1 milligrams per 100 grams of fruit) and contains small amounts of several B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and choline), vitamin A, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Red fleshed watermelon is especially rich in the antioxidant lycopene, also found in gac fruit, pink guava, red carrots, red tomatoes, tomato juice, ketchup and pink grapefruit. Lycopene has blood pressure lowering benefits which helps with diabetes associated high blood pressure.
Yellow watermelon is high in xanthophyll antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin, while orange watermelon has a high content of beta-carotene, all antioxidants with proven benefits for eyesight, helping protect and preserve good vision, another important aspect of diabetic health.
Since high blood pressure and other forms of cardiovascular disease are leading complications in diabetes, all diabetics should look to get nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and vitamin C in their diet. However, given the fact you can’t eat excessive amounts of watermelon with diabetes, to get complete nutrition and enjoy optimal benefits for health, it’s important to have a varied and overall balanced diet.
Watermelon and blood sugar levels
If you are diabetic and are considering introducing watermelon into your diet, know that the fruit can be both good and bad for you depending on how much you eat. If you eat small amounts at once, you won’t experience spikes in blood sugar levels; at the same time, you should enjoy benefits for health derived from the nutritional content of the fruit. But eating too much watermelon at once will definitely raise your blood sugar to unhealthy levels and compromise blood sugar control.
Portion size sets the basis for either benefits or side effects. Individual nutritional requirements, level of physical activity, other dietary choices and current management of the metabolic disease are factors that determine whether or not you can eat the fruit and how much or little of it you can eat.
Tips on how to eat watermelon with diabetes
Below is a list of practical advice and tips to help you introduce the fruit into your diet safely, without risking blood sugar spikes:
- Talk to your doctor or a dietitian specialized in diabetic diets about how often you can eat watermelon and how much you can eat safely.
- Eat only very small amounts at once and no more than one serving a day.
- Distribute your maximum allowed intake of the fruit over the course of an entire day in order to minimize effects on blood sugar and enjoy good blood sugar control.
- Avoid eating fruit, watermelon or other kinds, on an empty stomach or before a meal. If you want to eat a small serving of fruit, have it after a meal consisting of lean protein and low in carbs and sugar.
- Plan ahead for sweet snacks. Make room in your diet for a sweet snack like watermelon by choosing to eat healthy and low in carbs around the time you want to have the fruit to balance your macronutrients and enjoy blood sugar control.
- Keep a rough count of your total carb and sugar intake so you know if and when you can have a small serving of watermelon or other sweet fruits or dessert, and how much you can have.
- Go for a walk after having a serving of fruit. It also helps keep you in shape and has long-term benefits for diabetes, including better weight management and improved glucose tolerance.
- Don’t eat watermelon every single day. Eat other types of fruit too so you can enjoy varied nutrition and the benefits that come with it. And whatever fruit you eat, keep to small portion sizes.
- If you don’t feel good after eating this particular fruit, or any other fruit or food, know that it may not be a good choice for you and simply avoid it in the future. There are plenty of just as healthy and good-tasting options to choose from.
This post was updated on Wednesday / July 7th, 2021 at 10:06 PM