Do you love strawberries but you’re wondering if they’re safe for diabetes? Or worse, maybe someone has told you that you should never eat strawberries (or fruits in general) because they’ve got too much sugar?
Before you lose yourself in the rabbit hole of google searches, look no further – we are here today to take a stand on how fruits like strawberries can fit into a person with diabetes’ meal plan.
You’re in for a treat. Strawberries are low on the glycemic index and are one of the perfect fruits for diabetes! They’re sweet and versatile, what’s not to love?
In this blog post, we will look at where strawberries fit on the glycemic index, how they will impact your blood sugars, and why they are not a write-off for someone with diabetes.
DISCLAIMER: This post was written by Justine Chan MHSc, RD, CDE. All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice. Always seek medical and dietary advice from your doctor or dietitian.
Table of Contents
Glycemic index of strawberries
Strawberries have a glycemic index (GI) of 40 (1). A value of less than 55 is considered to be low on the glycemic index, so this means strawberries are a low glycemic fruit. What does this mean? Strawberries should only cause a small rise and fall in your blood sugar.
Glycemic Index of strawberries compared to other fruits
Fruits fall in a wide range on the glycemic index, from the modest guava with a GI of 29 to the showy pomelo with a GI of 72 (2). Since strawberries have a GI of 40, this puts them close to the middle, along with oranges at 45 and blueberries at 53 (3).
- Other low glycemic index fruits that are great for diabetes include:
- Apples (GI, 44)
- Apricots (GI, 42)
- Breadfruit, boiled (GI, 47)
- Grapefruit (GI, 47)
- Mango (GI, 48)
- Mandarin orange (GI, 52)
- Nectarines (GI, 43)
- Papaya (GI, 38)
- Pear (GI, 24)
- Plum (GI, 24)
- Prunes (GI, 29)
- Watermelon, seedless (yes, it is! GI, 48)
Keep in mind that some of these values may not be entirely reliable, but overall fruits remain consistently in the low GI range all over the world. (2).
What is the glycemic index?
The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate foods by their impact on your blood sugars. It compares the food’s carbohydrate effect to the equivalent in sugar, giving you a range from 1 to 100.
In other words, a food’s GI means that the sugars and starches in it will make your blood sugars go up X percent of what the same amount of sugar would do. This means that foods high on the glycemic index typically increase blood sugars more faster than those with a low score.
Glycemic Index Ranges
Only carbohydrates are assigned a value and they fall into three categories on the glycemic index: low, medium, and high. The ranges for these scores are:
Low GI: 1-55
Medium GI: 56-69
High GI: 70 or higher
As you can see, the glycemic index helps to reiterate that not all carbohydrates are equal and that carbohydrate quality matters. However, it doesn’t factor in how much of that food you are eating. Eating a pint of strawberries will have a larger effect on your blood sugars than eating just 5, even though the GI is still 40 for both portion sizes!
To figure out potency, you also need to consider how much you are eating. This is where glycemic load comes in to save the day.
Strawberries and glycemic load
Some might say that glycemic load (GL) is even more important than the glycemic index, because it considers both your portion size and the glycemic index of the food. Here is a comparison of the usual amounts that people eat and their glycemic load.
A ¼ cup serving of strawberries has a GL of 0.9. This is the perfect amount to add to a yogurt parfait or even dipped in dark chocolate.
On its own as a snack, a 1 cup serving has a GL of 3.8.
Both options are low glycemic load. So how will this affect your blood sugar?
Glycemic load is more comprehensive when it comes to determining a food’s effect on your blood sugars. It considers both the GI of a food (aka quality) and the amount of the food you are eating (aka quantity). You can calculate it by multiplying the number of available carbs in your serving by the glycemic index of the food, divided by 100 (3) or:
GLFood = (GIFood x amount (g) of available carbohydrateFood per serving)/100
After you’ve calculated your glycemic load for your serving, you can then refer to the categories below to see how much of an effect it will have on your blood sugars.
Low GL: less than or equal to 10
Medium GL: 11-19
High GL: greater than or equal to 20
Using the Glycemic Load
Here’s an example. Let’s say, you are deciding on an ingredient for your smoothie during snack time. You want to decide between 2 teaspoons of sugar or a 1 cup of strawberries. They both have about the same amount of carbs, 9g.
It’s a no-brainer that strawberries are going to be the healthier choice. But how much of an advantage does it have?
The glycemic index for sugar is 100 and the glycemic load works out to be 9 for two teaspoons. In contrast, the glycemic index for strawberries is 40 and the glycemic load is 3.8 for an entire cup, about 40 percent of the effect.
As you can see, both options still have a low glycemic load. That said, an entire cup of strawberries is going to keep you more satisfied and fuller longer than just a few teaspoons of sugar!
Downsides of Glycemic Load
Using this tool will provide a better picture of how different foods will affect your blood sugar, but it’s probably not practical to use every day. To have the glycemic index, carb counts of all the choices you’re considering, and glycemic loads all on hand at the start of a meal would just take the joy out of eating.
Keep in mind, other foods you are eating at meals will also play a role in how your blood sugars fare afterwards. Fat, protein, and fiber all affect how quickly carbs are broken down in your body and absorbed.
It’s important to look at the big picture. If you focus on choosing low glycemic index foods more often, you’ll likely meet the recommended glycemic load of less than 100 per day (4).
Are strawberries good for diabetes?
Here’s what 1 cup of strawberries (about 8 to 10 in total) provides (5):
- 9g net carbohydrates
- 3.3g fibre
- 1.1g protein
- 0.5g fat
High in vitamin C and folate, they’re also a good source of vitamins and minerals:
- vitamin C (100% Daily Value, and double the amount in a small orange)
- potassium (5% Daily Value)
- magnesium (5% Daily Value)
- folate (10% Daily Value)
- manganese (28% Daily Value)
I don’t think you need to be convinced that strawberries are good for you, but some short term studies suggest that vitamin C can help to improve blood sugars for people with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes (6).
How to incorporate strawberries in your diet
To prevent blood sugar spikes, pair strawberries with a source of fiber, fat or protein. Here are 9 epic ideas:
- Dipped in dark chocolate or whipped cream
- In a parfait with greek yogurt, nuts, and oats
- In a smoothie with protein powder, ice, and unsweetened almond milk
- As part of a cobb salad
- On top of overnight oats
- In chia pudding
- With cottage cheese
- Mixed with unsweetened shredded coconut
- Tossed with balsamic vinegar and basil
Key takeaways: Strawberries and glycemic index
In summary, strawberries are both low on the glycemic index and have a low glycemic load. They’re great for keeping your blood sugars in range. We looked at what makes them so nutritious, and concluded with some easy ways to incorporate them in your diet.
Keep in mind the glycemic index and load are just tools to help define how a food can affect your blood sugars. And what works for you may not work for someone else. At the end of the day, the numbers matter less and your overall lifestyle matters more.
What will help is combining strawberries at meals or snacks with protein, fat, or fiber to manage blood sugar spikes.
If you found this valuable and know someone who loves strawberries as much as you do, please share this post with them!