Can diabetics drink fruit juice? The short answer would be: they can, but they really shouldn’t. Fruit juices and diabetes are not a good pair mainly because fruit juices pack way too much carbohydrates, a lot of which are simple sugars that are absorbed right away and raise blood sugar levels almost instantly. They have almost no dietary fiber to counteract or at least temper the rise in blood sugar levels, except for juices with pulp which provide rather insignificant amounts. Not to mention it’s surprisingly easy to over-consume fruit juices, diabetic or non-diabetic. This can lead to weight gain and both increase the risk for type 2 diabetes in non-diabetics and the likelihood of complications in an existing condition.
Diabetes explained: Diabetes is a disease of the metabolism. More exactly, it’s a disease of the metabolism of carbohydrates, meaning it originates in the body’s inability to process carbohydrates in view of obtaining energy from them. Normally, when we eat plant foods, we get a lot of carbohydrates, mostly digestible ones (sugar is a type of simple, digestible carbohydrate). These are then broken down into their simplest form, simple sugars, and absorbed as such into the bloodstream (if they aren’t already simple sugars). Then, cells in the pancreas produce the hormone insulin to help move the sugar from the bloodstream into cells and tissues.
With diabetes, either there isn’t enough insulin produced or the cells of the body don’t respond correctly to it (also known as insulin resistance). This causes the sugar to stay in the bloodstream for too long, which predisposes to tissue and organ damage over time. As a result, diabetics are advised to limit their intake of digestible carbohydrates per day and per meal. This helps not to overwhelm the body while processing carbohydrates from food and helps prevent diabetes-associated health problems over time. And it’s also the reason why drinking fruit juices with diabetes is advised against.
Don’t get me wrong: fruit juices are healthy and provide various benefits both for non-diabetics and for diabetics through their vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content. It’s just that, for diabetics, the side effects outweigh the benefits and, in the end, the diabetic patient is better off not drinking any fruit juices at all. Or at least, not turning them into a dietary habit.
What is the best fruit juice for diabetics? Answer: there is no good fruit juice for diabetes type 2 or type 1. All fruit juices are high-carbohydrate and a high carbohydrate food is exactly what a diabetic doesn’t need in their diet. Not to mention that those made from sour fruit that are naturally low in sugar will often be made sweeter through the addition of table sugar, corn syrup or various other sweeteners.
The main arguments against diabetics drinking fruit juices are:
1) Fruit juices are high-carbohydrate. All the digestible carbohydrates in a fruit, including the simple sugars, make their way into the juice. And despite varying amounts of carbs and sugar between different types, all fruit juices will provide quite a lot of carbohydrates even with the smallest portions. On average, a 120 ml (4 oz) serving of unsweetened fruit juice will get you around 12-15 g of carbohydrates, most of which are simple sugars.
The more severe your diabetes and the stricter your dietary restrictions (the maximum amount of carbs you should be eating per day and per meal), the more likely even a small serving will affect you negatively. The effects of drinking fruit juice on diabetes blood sugar levels are more pregnant if you drink the juice on an empty stomach, before a meal, have too much at once or enjoy it too frequently.
2) They raise blood sugar levels. Fruit juices have no fiber and dietary fiber makes a big difference for the health of diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Dietary fiber is basically indigestible plant material that passes unchanged through the digestive tract – not for lack of trying though since the digestive tract will still try to break it down like it does other elements from food. All of this results in a slowing down of the entire digestion process, including the final part when nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, including the sugar obtained from the digestion of digestible carbohydrates. So without dietary fiber to slow down the rate at which the sugar obtained from fruit juices is absorbed into the bloodstream, blood sugar spikes are inevitable.
3) Fruit juices don’t satiate. There’s nothing to satiate in them. Whole fruits have fiber, found mostly in the skin and pulp and fiber fills you up, curbs hunger and keeps you satiated for longer between meals. But there’s no fiber in fruit juices (except for very small amounts in juices with pulp, insignificant really). And without the fiber to satiate, what the fruit juice does is simply add to your carbohydrate intake, leaving you with having to plan the rest of your meals so you don’t exceed your carbohydrate requirements.
4) Over-consumption is too easy. And this is possibly the biggest issue with drinking fruit juices with diabetes. While they are best avoided, having a small serving of a fruit juice occasionally will surely not affect your condition very much. After all, the effects of one food you consume as a treat, infrequently, in small amounts, do not outweigh the effects of the rest of your diet. This being said, so many people find it difficult to limit their intake of something as delicious as fruit juices. They’re sweet, flavorful, refreshing and don’t satiate, so it’s just too easy to pour more or have juice with the next meal, the next day and so on. The more juice you drink and the more frequently you drink it, the worse the side effects.
5) They cause weight gain. The digestible carbs in a fruit juice that are not already simple sugars will be broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream right away. And the sugar is taken up by various cells in the body, including fat cells. If your intake is higher than your requirements and if you don’t exercise the excess right away, you are looking at weight gain with time.
6) They may have sugar or other sweeteners added to them. If you are looking to have a treat sometime, and that is OK as long as intake is minimal and infrequent, make sure you read your labels. Choose products that are labeled 100% natural, no sugar or other sweeteners added. And also look for carbohydrate or total carbohydrate content and check sugar values to see how much of both you actually will be getting per serving so you can plan your meals accordingly. Ideally, you should be making your own juice, fresh and unsweetened, for when you feel you kept to your diet so well you deserve a treat.
7) Some fruit juices affect how diabetes medication is absorbed. Grapefruit, sour oranges (Seville oranges), sour cherries, tomatoes and other fruit juices have antioxidants such as naringenin, bergamottin, dihydroxybergamottin and others which alter the way diabetes medication is absorbed. The naturally occurring compounds can either inhibit the activity of certain medication or potentiate it, increasing concentrations in the bloodstream – both undesirable outcomes. In addition to diabetes medication, medication for heart disease, allergies, asthma and others may be subjected to such effects.
100% fruit juice and diabetes: good or bad? Just because it’s 100% it doesn’t mean it’s good for diabetes. The above statement still applies: the side effects greatly outweigh the benefits. For visible health benefits, you’d have to consume the fruit juice regularly. But fruit juices provide a lot of carbs, most of which are simple sugars and regular consumption can cause serious fluctuations in blood sugar levels, immediate feelings of unwell and long-term side effects such as tissue and organ damage (eyesight, skin etc.). A regular consumption would also mean weight gain which brings about further complications for the condition. At most, you may enjoy very small servings occasionally, as a treat.