What does consuming California Raisins mean for Diabetes?

By Rick Miller, Clinical and Sports Dietitian, Harley Street, London

Written on 20th May 2019

Diabetes Week is here and that means talking all things sugar, glucose, insulin and other medical facts about a condition that according to the World Health Organisation, affects more than 422 million people around the world – that’s 1 in 11 of us.

I talked about the detail of what diabetes is in this article but to keep things simple, diabetes is a condition where individuals don’t manage their blood glucose (sugar) levels properly and the reason for this centres around a hormone called insulin. People with diabetes don’t produce any insulin at all and are classified as having type I diabetes or if their insulin doesn’t work as it should, then they are classified as having type II diabetes. The vast majority of people around the world have type II diabetes, about 90% in fact.

It would be great to be able to say having uncontrolled blood sugar levels isn’t much to worry about but sadly the opposite is true. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to many different types of health problems, ranging from heart, vision or other more serious health problems and so raising awareness about the condition so that people get the right medical support is important.

It’s not just about sugar

Ironically, despite having just said that diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are affected, I would agree with the position of Diabetes UK that managing this lifelong condition isn’t about just abstaining from anything sweet for the rest of your life. However, the amount of sugars and carbohydrates eaten has the biggest effect on blood glucose levels – so it’s about finding a balance. If you have diabetes, I can imagine that’s sweet news to your ears!

There are also other ways to help keep your blood sugar under control and one of them is keeping active. Regular physical activity is recommended by Diabetes UK to help increase the amount of sugar removed from the bloodstream and used by muscle tissue and provide other benefits such as increasing the health of your heart, lungs, bones and muscles. Diabetes UK also recommend that if you have diabetes and your blood sugar takes a dip after picking up the pace, then keeping a piece of fresh or dried fruit, such as California Raisins on hand could be a great idea.

Glycaemic Index

One way some people with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, find it useful to help to manage blood glucose is to understand glycaemic Index (GI) when choosing your carbohydrate containing foods.

The GI Scale is a measure of the blood glucose response to foods that contain carbohydrates and dietary sugars as we digest them. The scale goes from 0 to 100 and the foods higher up the scale are those that raise blood glucose levels rapidly (GI score greater than 70).

As rule of thumb, high GI foods tend to be more refined or have added sugar. Foods such as: white rice, white bread, cakes, biscuits, sweets, sugary cereals and fizzy drinks all tend to have a very high GI. These foods may be needed for those with diabetes who experience a hypoglycaemic episode (low blood glucose readings) in an emergency; but for day to day healthier eating opting for medium and low GI foods is the way forwards.

Foods with a medium score (GI between 55-70) raise blood glucose only an average amount, foods such as: ripe bananas, wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, traditionally dried fruit (e.g. California Raisins) and oatcakes all have a medium GI.

Finally, those on the low end of the scale (GI score less than or equal to 55) have the slowest energy release. Foods such as: sweet potatoes, beans, chickpeas and lentils, porridge apples, berries, yoghurt, milk and nuts all have a low GI. Opting for foods on the medium to low side of the GI scale may lead to a much slower release of the sugars and help sustain blood glucose levels throughout the day.

You might have been surprised to see California Raisins in there, with a medium score, because they are naturally sweet! Yet, interestingly, raisins are unique in that they contain an equal balance of the sugars fructose and glucose. As fructose digests slowly the energy release is much more gradual. Several studies in patients with type II diabetes who opted for raisins as a snack had a 16-23% lower blood glucose levels after eating them as opposed to other processed snacks (such as biscuits) and over a period of 12 weeks had a 19% lower fasting blood glucose level.

The biggest transitions for those with diabetes is making this life-long condition part of their everyday routine and not letting it stop them enjoying life to the fullest.

Tackling the conundrum around blood sugar and keeping it under control is a pivotal aspect of this. California Raisins could be the healthy, moderate GI addition to the diet that stops roadblocks like dipping blood glucose getting in the way of leading an active lifestyle.

To read previous articles written by dietitian Rick Miller – click here