Cherries are one of the best fruits for diabetics and non-diabetics alike, despite their significant sugar content and the fact that they raise blood sugar. But when eaten in moderation, as they should be, the rise they generate is not excessive. This is because cherries actually have a low glycemic index and a low glycemic load, meaning their effects on blood sugar are minimal. Provided, of course, they are eaten in reasonable amounts, according to the diabetic patient’s individual nutritional requirements, based on their level of physical activity and dietary restrictions of their condition.
What is the glycemic index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures how fast the carbohydrates in a food raise blood sugar levels. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into sugar which is then absorbed into the bloodstream and contributes to what we call blood sugar (or glucose) levels. The GI scale goes from 0 to 100. Below 55 is a low GI. Between 56-69 is a moderate GI. Between 70-100 is a high GI. Diabetics and anyone looking to control their blood sugar are better off choosing foods with as low a GI as possible. The lower the GI, the lesser its effects on blood sugar; the higher the GI, the more pregnant the effects.
Sweet cherry glycemic index: 20 – 20-ish (low score)
The glycemic index of (sweet) cherries is around 20 making them a low-glycemic fruit. This means eating cherries in moderation, as part of a varied and balanced diet, should elicit minimal effects on blood sugar. The exact GI score may vary slightly between fruit: 20, 22, 25 or a number close to these values. These differences in GI score account for variations in nutritional status between varieties of cherry, more exactly variations in macronutrient profile, in particular, carbohydrates, sugar, and fiber content.
For example, naturally sweeter varieties and riper fruit have more sugars which are also more readily digestible. This means that their glycemic impact is slightly higher, that is, blood sugar rises slightly more and slightly faster. Varieties that are more sour or simply less sweet or are less ripe are tougher and less readily digestible. This means the fruit require more digesting and have more fiber resistant to digestion and a reduced glycemic impact as a result.
Differences in carbs, sugar and fiber content and profile affect how our digestive system processes the fruit and absorbs the nutrients in it. This leads to slightly different glycemic values and effects on blood sugar.
Do cherries raise blood sugar levels?
Yes, actually. Eating cherries causes a rise in blood sugar levels as a result of the fruit being a significant source of digestible carbohydrates. How many carbs in cherries? 100 grams of sweet cherries have a total of 16.01 grams of carbohydrates of which 12.82 grams are sugars, another 1.09 grams digestible carbohydrates and only 2.1 grams indigestible dietary fiber.
The digestible carbohydrates contribute to blood sugar levels. The dietary fiber does not – what it does is slow down the rate of sugar absorption into the bloodstream, contributing to blood sugar control by interfering with how digestible carbs are absorbed.
But assuming intake is moderate, reasonable, as it ought to be, and given the low glycemic index of the fruit (20-ish) which should generate minimal effects on blood sugar, cherries only produce a modest and steady rise in blood sugar which allows for better overall control and management of conditions such as diabetes (so safe to eat with diabetes). The indigestible dietary fiber found mostly in the skin of the fruit is partly responsible for such effects which is why it’s important to eat the fruit with skin.
How many carbs and how much sugar in cherries?
Cherries carbohydrate and sugar content per 1 cup serving:
- 1 cup of cherries with pits (138 grams): 22.09 grams of total carbohydrates of which 17.69 grams sugars, another 1.5 grams of digestible carbohydrates and 2.9 grams of dietary fiber
- 1 cup of cherries without pits (154 grams): 24. 66 grams total carbohydrates of which 19.74 grams sugars, another 1.72 grams digestible carbohydrates and 3.2 grams dietary fiber
Sweet cherry glycemic load: 4 – 6 (low score)
What is the glycemic load?
The glycemic load (GL) is a scale that measures how fast the carbohydrates in a given serving of a food raise blood sugar levels. Below 10 is a low GL. Between 11-19 is a moderate GL. Over 20 is a high GL. The lower the glycemic load, the lesser the effects on blood sugar. The higher the glycemic load, the more pregnant the effects.
The GL score of a food is determined based on the following formula: GI (glycemic index) X (no. of carbohydrates in a serving expressed in grams)/100.
Glycemic load for a cup of cherries (determined for a GI score of 20)
- (with pits, 138 grams per cup): 20 X 22.09/100 = 4.4, estimated at 4 (low GL)
- (without pits, 154 grams per cup): 20 X 24.66/100 = 4.9, estimated at 5 (low GL)
Glycemic load for a cup of cherries (determined for a GI score of 25)
- (with pits, 138 grams per cup): 25 X 22.09/100 = 5.5 (low GL)
- (without pits, 154 grams per cup): 25 X 24.66/100 = 6.1, estimated at 6 (low GL)
The glycemic load for one cup of pitted and unpitted cherries (138 grams and 154 grams per cup, respectively) is low and ranges from 4 to 6. What this means is that a moderate intake of the fresh fruit should not affect glucose metabolism too much, but rather support efforts for better management.
However, know that it’s important how much of a food you eat because, after a certain intake, GI and GL values become irrelevant. In instances of excessive intakes, the otherwise limited effects of cherries and other low glycemic foods on blood sugar levels are offset by the excessive intake.
Useful tips to make cherries better for you
- Only have small servings at once
You can start with as little as 50 grams or 100 grams of the fresh fruit and work your way up depending on your individual response to the different portion sizes.
- Limit intake to one serving a day
If needed, spread intake over the course of a day (don’t eat all the fruit at once). Alternatively, have the fruit every other day or less frequently.
- Eat your cherries with skin
That’s where most of the fiber lies and fiber is important for blood sugar control.
- Eat cherries after a meal
Eating fruit after a meal helps reduce their glycemic impact, provided the meal is not high-glycemic either. If you are planning on having your fruit after you eat, do consider green leafy vegetables with lean protein, eggs or cheese for the meal.
- Have one kind of fruit at a time
If you are looking to enjoy better blood sugar control, it’s preferable to eat cherries soon after a meal, not an empty stomach, and only cherries. Don’t mix multiple servings of different fruit, however healthy. Eating fruit responsibly when you have diabetes or high blood sugar is good for insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and other relevant markers.
- Pair your fruit with light protein
It helps to pair your fruit with light protein such as protein from raw nuts, raw seeds, eggs, cheese, chicken or fish. This helps to further reduce the fruit’s glycemic effects and enjoy better blood sugar control.
- Exercise or be active after eating fruit
Consider fruit as your dose of quick energy. To reduce the glycemic impact of eating fruit, cherries or another, have them before you plan on exercising, or just be physically active after. The reason why it helps to exercise after having fruit is to use up all the energy you are getting and enjoy better glucose control.
- Consider individual response to foods
If you feel a certain fruit is not the right fit for you as in it’s bad for you, simply discontinue consumption. There are plenty of other options you can choose from that can provide similar benefits and nutrition without any risks or side effects.
This post was updated on Saturday / July 3rd, 2021 at 11:00 PM