Are Blueberries Good for Diabetes? Here's What a Dietitian Has to Say
They don't call blueberries "nature's candy" for nothing. They're small, they're sweet and they're delicious. Blueberries make a perfect little snack, a flavorful topping for oatmeal or yogurt, and a great fruity addition to pancakes, breads and muffins. Given that they are so sweet, you may wonder if blueberries are good for diabetes. Here's what you need to know.
Related: Health Benefits of Blueberries
One 1/2-cup serving of blueberries contains:
- 42 calories
- 11 g carbohydrate
- 2 g fiber
- 1 g protein
- 7 g sugars
- 4 mg calcium
- 57 mg potassium
- 7 mg vitamin C
What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Blueberries?
Blueberries have a favorable impact on blood sugar management, making them a good choice if you have diabetes. Here's what's going on in the body after you eat them.
Their fiber slows down digestion
Blueberries are a 53 on the glycemic index, a tool that many people with diabetes use to predict how a particular food will impact their blood sugar. The glycemic index measures how quickly a certain food will cause blood sugar to rise, ranking foods on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the foods that will cause a rapid blood sugar spike. Since blueberries have a score of 53, they are considered a low-GI food. If you have diabetes and eat blueberries, their glucose will be released into the bloodstream slowly during digestion, which is a good thing.
These berries are a blood-sugar-friendly food, in part, because of their fiber. A half-cup of blueberries has 2 grams of fiber. Fiber is perhaps one of the most important nutrients for people with diabetes or prediabetes because it's a key player in controlling and regulating blood sugar. Eating fiber-rich foods slows digestion, because the body is unable to absorb and break down fiber. Fiber-rich foods don't spike blood sugar in the same way quickly digested simple carbohydrates do.
Maintaining good blood sugar control is the ultimate goal of people with diabetes. And in those who don't have diabetes, eating foods high in fiber and having consistently controlled and regulated blood sugar is an excellent way to prevent prediabetes or diabetes, research shows.
Their polyphenol content may improve blood sugar
Blueberries are chock-full of phytochemicals, a fancy word for chemical compounds found in plants. The most abundant phytochemicals in blueberries are called polyphenols. Polyphenols carry out powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the body. Consistent, long-term intake of polyphenols is essentially like arming your immune system with some of the fittest, strongest, most well-equipped soldiers out there.
We can't talk about polyphenols and not talk about a specific type of polyphenol called anthocyanins. When it comes to fruit, blueberries are one of the best sources of anthocyanins. It's this compound that gives blueberries their deep blue hue.
When consumed in foods like blueberries, anthocyanins deliver a bevy of health benefits. Research shows that anthocyanins have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. These compounds can help bolster immunity and improve visual and neurological health.
What's more, preliminary research shows that anthocyanins can increase insulin sensitivity, meaning these compounds can improve the process of glucose uptake in muscles and adipose tissues, notes a review in the journal Nutrients. When you have type 2 diabetes, cells are insulin-resistant, meaning they're impaired in their ability to use insulin to take glucose from the blood and use it as energy. Increasing insulin sensitivity then allows cells to better absorb blood sugar, so your pancreas does not have to release as much insulin.
How to Incorporate Blueberries into Your Diet
Blueberries are delicious on their own. Straight up, eaten like candy, they make for the perfect all-natural sweet treat. But they also are great in smoothies, on toast and in salads. Here are some fun ways to add them to your everyday eats.
On top of yogurt
Start with 6 ounces of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt in a bowl. Top it with ¼ cup of blueberries, 2 tablespoons high-fiber cereal, 1 ounce walnuts and a sprinkle of chia seeds. The Greek yogurt provides protein, the cereal and blueberries supply complex carbohydrates, fiber and antioxidants, and the walnuts and chia seeds add healthy fats. Also try this Yogurt with Blueberries & Honey.
In a smoothie
For this recipe, you'll want to grab frozen blueberries, which have just as many nutrients and antioxidants as fresh. Combine ¼ cup frozen blueberries, ½ of a frozen banana, ½ cup frozen riced cauliflower, 1 cup spinach, ¼ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, a dash of cinnamon and 1 cup almond milk in a blender; process until smooth. For another smoothie idea, try the Blueberry & Avocado Smoothie.
In a salad
Adding fruit to your salad delivers the perfect sweet touch to balance out a bowl of veggies. Toss together spinach, cucumbers, pecans, blueberries and feta cheese. Serve with a balsamic vinaigrette. Another can't-miss recipe? Roasted Beet & Blueberry Salad.
As a toast topper
Instead of peanut butter and jelly on toast, try peanut butter and fresh blueberries. The berries will add that sweetness that you'll be wanting, without all the added sugar from the jelly or jam. Another good idea: Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Toast.
Bottom line: Are blueberries good for diabetes?
Yes, the fiber and antioxidants in blueberries promote a more stable blood sugar response. Whether you have diabetes or not, blueberries make for a sweet, fiber-filled, blood-sugar-friendly addition to any diet.