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.
Sweet cherry glycemic index: 20-ish (low score)
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.
The glycemic index of (sweet) cherries is about 20, making them a low-glycemic fruit. This means eating them 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 macronutrient profile (in particular, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber). For example, naturally sweeter varieties and riper fruit have more sugars and are more readily digestible. Varieties that are more sour or simply less sweet or are less ripe are tougher and less readily digestible. Differences like these affect how our digestive system processes the fruit and lead to slightly different glycemic effects.
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. 100 g of sweet cherries have a total of 16.01 g of carbohydrates of which 12.82 g are sugars, another 1.09 g of digestible carbohydrates and only 2.1 g 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.
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 rather minimal effects on blood sugar, cherries 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 much carbs and sugars in cherries?
Cherries carbohydrate and sugar content per 1-cup serving:
– with pits (138 g): 22.09 g total carbohydrates of which 17.69 g sugars, another 1.5 g digestible carbohydrates, 2.9 g dietary fiber
– without pits (154 g): 24. 66 g total carbohydrates of which 19.74 g sugars, another 1.72 g digestible carbohydrates, 3.2 g dietary fiber
Sweet cherry glycemic load: 4-6 (serving: 1 cup pitted, unpitted)
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 g): 20 X 22.09/100 = 4.4, estimated at 4 (low GL)
– (without pits, 154 g): 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 g): 25 X 22.09/100 = 5.5 (low GL)
– (without pits, 154 g): 25 X 24.66/100 = 6.1, estimated at 6 (low GL)
The glycemic load for 1 cup of pitted and unpitted cherries (138 g and 154 g 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 you eat – after a certain intake, GI and GL values become irrelevant and their predictions regarding the effects on blood sugar of certain foods are offset by the excessive intake.
Useful tips to make cherries better for you
1) Only have small servings at once. You can start with as little as 50 g, 100 g and work your way up depending on your individual response to the different portion sizes.
2) 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).
3) Eat your cherries with skin. That’s where most of the fiber lies and fiber is important for blood sugar control.
4) Have one fruit at a time, preferably not an empty stomach. Don’t mix them up if you’re dealing with insulin resistance, low glucose tolerance etc.
5) Pair your fruit with light protein from nuts, seeds, eggs, cheese, chicken or fish. It helps to further reduce the fruit’s glycemic effects.
6) It helps to exercise after having fruit, to use up all the energy and enjoy better glucose control.
7) If you feel a certain fruit is not the right fit for you, simply discontinue consumption. There are plenty of other options you can choose from that can provide similar benefits and nutrition.