The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends treating low blood sugar (aka hypoglycemia) with 15 grams of carbohydrates when blood sugar levels drop below 70 mg/dL. Oftentimes, quick and convenient sources of sugar like ½ cup of fruit juice, a few hard candies or tablespoon of sugar are the go-to sources experts recommend to help a person with diabetes get their blood sugars back on track so they can start feeling like themselves again.
Given the fact that fruit juice is usually associated with treating low blood sugars, a person with diabetes may be wondering if they can consume fruit juice as part of a balanced diet rather than using it solely to treat a low. To find out, we spoke with two leading certified diabetes experts and registered dietitian nutritionists. Find out what they had to say below.
How Juice Affects Your Blood Sugar
First, it’s important to understand how the calorie-containing foods and drinks you consume affect blood sugar levels. When you consume any food or beverage with “energy” (from calories), fruit juice included, the carbohydrates found in the food are broken down and released into your bloodstream as glucose molecules. These molecules provide instant fuel to your body’s cells.
When a person without diabetes eats or drinks carbohydrates, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin to help transport, store and/or use the glucose. However, this is not the case with someone who has diabetes. New Jersey-based dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet, explains that a person with diabetes is not able to produce or utilize insulin the way the body relies on it to, which may require them to use medication to manage their blood sugars. Similarly, Palinski-Wade also shares this means someone with diabetes needs to carefully monitor their carbohydrate intakes—calorie-containing beverages included—to appropriately dose their insulin to keep their blood sugar in check.
With this said, there are a few things to be aware of when choosing fruit juices, especially if you have diabetes. Some are made from 100% fruit juice, meaning they don’t use any added sugars (like honey, table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup) when they make the product. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the available research on juice consumption and diabetes published in the Public Library of Science Journal (PLoS One) found that greater consumption of sugar-sweetened fruit juice was significantly associated with risk of type 2 diabetes. On the contrary, the consumption of 100% fruit juice was not linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. While there is always a need for ongoing research, this review reinforces the importance of choosing your beverages wisely based on your individual needs if you have diabetes.
Choosing the Right Fruit Juices for Diabetes
What to Look For
According to Palinski-Wade and Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H., RDN, LD, author of The Easy Diabetes Cookbook, choosing 100% fruit juice is the best option to consider for a person with diabetes, especially when it contains additional nutrients like fiber. Since dietary fiber offers bulk, it may help with blood sugar balance and gut health. However, the fiber content of fruit juice is still low in comparison to eating the whole fruit.
Keeping portions in check is important for all individuals, but especially for those with diabetes. Palinski-Wade notes that a good rule of thumb is to enjoy at most ½ cup of 100% fruit juice daily to help stay within your carbohydrate intake goals.
However, both Palinski-Wade and Phipps remind individuals work with their health care team to identify their individual needs and blood sugar target ranges and choose the appropriate portion that aligns with those needs.
Palinkski-Wade shared a few of her favorite higher-fiber juice recommendations for those with diabetes.
100% prune juice is a natural source of dietary fiber, which can support healthy digestion and help you feel your best. A 4-ounce serving provides roughly 2 grams of fiber, 20 grams of carbohydrates and five essential vitamins and minerals, including 344 milligrams of potassium, which research in the Journal of Ayub Medical College Abbottabad shows may help lower blood pressure and protect against heart disease. Since prune juice is high in carbohydrates, it’s important to pair this with a source of protein and healthy fat at meals.
Beet juice is another healthy option. A 4-ounce serving provides around 2 grams of fiber, only 8 grams of carbohydrates and 160 mg of potassium. This nutrient-rich juice has been shown to promote healthy blood pressure levels. Palinski-Wade notes this is good news for people with diabetes, since this population has a higher risk for heart disease. A small study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science found that drinking ½ cup of beet juice may help to reduce post-meal blood sugar levels. Since it’s rather earthy-tasting on its own, consider including it in a smoothie with Greek yogurt, frozen cherries, peanut butter and a little dark cocoa powder.
While it’s a little more expensive, Palinski-Wade also recommends tart cherry juice due to the sleep benefits it may offer. She notes, “Just one poor night of sleep has been linked to increased insulin resistance as well as changes in hunger and satiety hormones, all of which can lead to higher blood sugar levels.” Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that consuming tart cherry juice before bed helped improve both sleep quality and quantity for those who suffer from insomnia. If you do choose to incorporate this juice as part of your evening snack, Palinski-Wade recommends pairing it with a source of lean protein or healthy fat to help slow down how quickly it’s absorbed.
Tips for Treating Blood Sugar Lows
Phipps recommends these two 100% fruit juices for treating blood sugar lows.
Quick, convenient and cost-effective, a 4-ounce serving of 100% apple juice provides around 15 grams of carbohydrates, making it a great choice to quickly give you a blood sugar boost when you need it. It also provides 48 mg of vitamin C, an important antioxidant that helps rid your body of free radicals that can cause damage over time. Consider carrying a child-size box (usually 4 to 6 ounces) in your bag so you always have an option should a blood sugar low strike.
Similar to apple juice, a 4-ounce serving of grape juice provides around 20 grams of carbohydrates, making it another great option to treat a blood sugar low. It also provides 66 mg of vitamin C, in addition to some potassium. While harder to find in convenient grab-and-go boxes, it’s a great idea to keep on hand for treatment for blood sugar lows at home.
Tips to Include Fruit Juice in a Healthy Diabetes-Appropriate Diet
Keep these tips from Palinski-Wade and Phipps in mind to help you incorporate 100% fruit juice into your eating pattern.
- Pair it with a meal. If you’d like to enjoy some 100% fruit juice, have it with other solid foods. The fiber and protein in your meal can help slow down how quickly the sugar in the juice is absorbed, which can help slow down how quickly it raises your blood sugar.
- Go halfsies. Start with 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice and try diluting it with an additional 4 ounces of water. This way you can still enjoy the vitamins and minerals in the juice—as well as the flavor—with less concentrated amounts of sugar.
- Think outside the cup. 100% fruit juice can act as a natural sweetener in recipes like smoothies, marinades and dressings. Try mixing together olive oil, cider vinegar and 100% prune juice as a sweet dressing for summer salads.
- Make your own mocktail. 100% fruit juice can also make a nutritious mixer for nonalcoholic drinks and can offer a great way to cut added sugars in your favorite beverages. Try adding a splash of 100% fruit juice to sparkling water for a refreshing alternative to wine or Champagne or even as a simple afternoon treat.
The Bottom Line
A person with diabetes can include fruit juice in a balanced, variety-filled diet. Experts advise choosing 100% fruit juice and taking note of other nutrients like dietary fiber, as well as being mindful of portion size. Consider combining 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice with 4 ounces of water to dilute the sugar content, or use fruit juice in a recipe to add a natural touch of sweetness. Most importantly, be intentional with how you enjoy it, says Phipps.
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