You may think this dietary staple is a no-go if you have diabetes. Here's what to know.
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The banana is a highly versatile, delicious fruit that's easy to digest and touted for its many health benefits, such as protection against oxidative stress and chronic disease due to its high fiber and antioxidant contents. Bananas' soft texture and sweet taste make them a healthy option for most people—including babies and older adults, who may struggle with chewing and swallowing tougher foods, as well as athletes and active individuals who need a quick energy source while on the go.

But are bananas safe to eat for those living with diabetes? Keep reading to find out. Plus, we'll cover how bananas affect blood sugar and the benefits of consuming bananas if you have diabetes.

How Bananas Affect Your Blood Sugar

People with diabetes must be careful when eating carbohydrate-rich foods. That's because carbs raise your blood sugar more than any other nutrient, meaning the type of carbs you eat can significantly impact blood sugar management. In addition, high-carb foods tend to have a higher ranking on the glycemic index—a 100-point scale that measures how fast a certain food increases blood sugar levels. In people without diabetes, their pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream when they experience a blood sugar spike. Insulin then moves the sugar out of the blood and into the cells, where it's used for energy or stored for later use. However, people with diabetes either don't produce enough insulin to transport sugar out of the blood, or their bodies can't use insulin as they should, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since bananas contain sugar, they can cause blood sugar to rise more than other foods do. According to the Department of Agriculture's FoodData Central, one medium banana contains approximately 27 grams of carbs and 14 grams of sugar. However, like most other whole-food sources of sugar, bananas contain fiber (about 3 grams per medium banana). Fiber is a powerhouse nutrient that has many health benefits. In terms of diabetes, fiber blunts blood sugar spikes. It enhances your body's ability to regulate blood sugar by slowing down the digestion and absorption of carbs, per a 2018 review published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.

According to Kelsey Lorencz, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition advisor at Zenmaster Wellness, bananas are fine to eat if you have diabetes. "The carbs found in bananas are broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream before heading to cells for energy. Eating a banana will cause blood sugar to increase, but depending on how much you eat, what you pair it with and the ripeness, that's not necessarily a bad thing," says Lorencz. "A riper banana will have more sugar, and a banana on the green side will have less sugar and more resistant starch, which doesn't impact blood sugar."

Benefits of Eating Bananas

While people with diabetes need to moderate their carb intake, they still need to consume healthy carbs for energy. "Eating healthy carbs is especially important for people with diabetes if they're taking any blood sugar-lowering medications," explains Lorencz. "Bananas are good sources of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6 and manganese."

Bananas are a great source of quick energy, and eating them may provide several health benefits for those with diabetes.

Can Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Green (or unripe) bananas contain less sugar and more resistant starch than riper bananas. According to a 2019 review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, resistant starch is a carbohydrate that can't be digested in your small intestine and has many health benefits, such as improved digestion, reduced cholesterol and improved gut health. Resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic syndrome, including diabetes.

Can Help Regulate Blood Sugar

The resistant starch found in green bananas functions similarly to fiber in that it slows the digestion of carbs and prevents blood sugar spiking, according to a 2019 review published in Nutrients. In addition, resistant starch may help your gut bacteria, which can improve insulin function and help people with diabetes better manage their blood sugar, per a 2022 publication in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. In addition, bananas rank low on the GI scale. Ripe bananas score 51, while greener, less ripe bananas can score as low as 42, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Boost Your Heart Health

When it comes to diabetes, taking good care of your heart is vital. According to the National Institutes of Health, people with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease and have risk factors for heart attack and stroke, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Fortunately, the vitamins and minerals found in bananas have heart-protective properties. For example, bananas are an excellent source of potassium, a nutrient essential for proper heart function. Increasing potassium intake can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. In addition, bananas are a good source of magnesium, which is correlated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. One medium banana contains 422 milligrams of potassium (9% of the Daily Value) and 32 mg of magnesium (8% DV).

Tips for Including Bananas in a Healthy Diabetes Diet

If you have diabetes, the following tips can help you enjoy bananas while keeping your blood sugar in check:

  • Combine bananas with foods that are high in protein and fats to slow down your body's digestion and absorption of sugar. For example, add a banana to a smoothie containing chia seeds or flaxseed, or eat a handful of nuts along with a banana.
  • Eat greener, less ripe bananas, as they are higher in resistant starch and lower in sugar.
  • Consume smaller bananas to lower the amount of sugar entering your blood.

Lorencz adds, "Choose bananas that are a little on the green side. Then, pair them with a protein and fat source, like peanut butter or hard-boiled eggs, for a healthy and satisfying breakfast to keep your blood sugar stable."

The Bottom Line

Bananas are a delicious, nutritious and affordable food for everyone, including those with diabetes. Eating this healthy fruit can help stabilize blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity and improve heart health. Though bananas are higher in carbs and sugars than some foods, they also contain fiber and resistant starch that slows down the digestion and release of sugar into your bloodstream. These qualities make bananas a healthy, go-to snack for people with diabetes. However, if you have diabetes, consider choosing smaller, less ripe bananas and pairing them with other healthy foods high in protein and fats.