Who can resist the refreshing juiciness of a watermelon, an instant pick-me-up on a hot day! Watermelons might seem like a guilty sweet indulgence that diabetics should steer clear of, but is that really true? Does it have too much sugar and will eating some create any significant issues for you?
While watermelons may not feature high on the list of fruit recommended for diabetics, if you’re wondering if they’re okay to have, here’s some perspective.
Watermelons Are Surprisingly Nutritious
There are plenty of good reasons to have watermelon. A cup of diced watermelon weighing about 150 gm contains just 46 kcal, but gives you
- 12.3 mg of immunity-building vitamin C;
- 5 µg of folate that helps with energy production, nervous system function, mental and emotional health;
- 865 IU of vitamin A, a nutrient that’s important for vision as well as for healthy skin, skeletal tissue, and teeth. These nutrients also have strong antioxidant properties which help the body fight oxidative stress and free radical damage that are responsible for aging, among other things.
- The fruit also contains good amounts of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.1
Diabetes Does Not Mean You Can’t Have Any Fruit
As someone with diabetes, you know well enough not to consume too much sugar. Yet, not all fruits are off the table if you’re diabetic. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh produce (both fruits and vegetables) and whole-grain foods, nonfat dairy, beans, poultry, seafood, and lean meat.2 So where does watermelon figure in this equation?
Watermelon: Factors To Consider If You Are Diabetic
Sugar, Glycemic Index, And Glycemic Load
If you are diabetic, you shouldn’t just be looking at the sugar content but the overall glycemic load of the fruit. So how does a watermelon stack up when it comes to forbidden fruit?
A cup of watermelon contains 9.42 gm of sugar and there’s no getting around that.3 It also has a fairly high glycemic index (GI) of 80 (on a scale of 1 to 100). GI has been used as an indicator of how quickly your body burns through a certain food. Generally, those with prediabetes or diabetes focus on consuming low GI foods that are not likely to cause a sugar spike in their system.4
But how does it fare when it comes to the more critical glycemic load (GL)? This metric is considered more representative of the impact of a food on your body’s blood glucose levels. It also factors in the carb content of a particular food. Numbers below 10 are considered low GL foods, 20 and up is high. Watermelon with a GL of 5 is good to go basis this measure and should, therefore, be acceptable as part of a diabetes meal plan because its carb content isn’t considered that high.5 Which takes us to our next point!
Carbohydrates In Watermelon And Diabetes
Carbohydrates also play a key role in your body’s blood sugar levels. That’s because your system breaks down the carbs you consume and converts them to sugar too.6 But are the carbohydrate levels in watermelon high enough for you to be concerned?
The good news is that watermelon contains only about 11.48 gm of carbs per 150 gm cup serving of the cubed fruit. If you have about 100 gm that’s just 7.55 gm of carbohydrates. For half a cup, even less.7 The average American Diabetes Association meal plan contains 45 percent of calories from carbs. This means you can get away with 10 to 25 gm of carbs in a snack, and 45 to 60 gm of carbs in a meal, with the balance coming from other nutrients.8 So, watermelon stays? It can if you take one more thing into consideration.
Portion size matters. A growing body of research seems to indicate there may be merit in limiting carb intake further to keep blood sugar in check – both in diabetics as well as those with prediabetes. As one study found, consuming a very low carbohydrate diet and combining that with changes to improve behavior around eating helped improve glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.9
Keeping that in mind, you may want to cut your watermelon serving size to half a cup or so. More importantly, balance out the carbs you have the rest of the day because this will eat into a fair share of the count for the day.
What About Watermelon Juice?
While watermelon juice made fresh at home isn’t taboo, do keep in mind the amount of fruit that’s going into a serving. You may be better off eating a small serving of the whole fruit instead of strained juice, which has less fiber and will deliver more calories and sugar without your realizing it. Fruit juices are naturally high in sugar. About 8 oz of natural fruit juice with no added sugar could contain as much sugar as 8 oz of some sodas!10
The American Diabetes Association cautions against drinking highly sugared concentrated fruit juices or fruit flavored drinks. So be sure that you have your juice fresh if you must and perhaps combine it with fiber-rich fruits or vegetables that are low in carbs and sugar.11
How To Have Watermelon When You’re Diabetic: Dos And Don’ts
So, we now know that diabetics can and should consume fruits like watermelon. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you do it right.
- Do have small consistent amounts through the day rather than one large portion of carbs and sugar at one go.
- Do ensure it is spaced a few hours after your last carb intake. This will minimize spikes in blood glucose levels.
- Don’t give up on fruit. You can have up to two servings of fruit per day. One of these could be watermelon.
- Do count your carbs and plan your meals. Watermelon can be a nutritious fruit choice for diabetics, as long as you take the carbohydrates it contains into consideration when planning meals.
- Don’t stick to watermelon alone. Instead, also consider grapefruit which has a GI of 25 and GL of 3; or pears which have a GI of 38 and GL of 4.12
|↑1, ↑3||Watermelon, raw. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.|
|↑2||Diabetes Meal Plans and a Healthy Diet. American Diabetes Association.|
|↑4||Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑5, ↑12||Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑6||Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑7||Watermelon, raw. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.|
|↑8||About Our Meal Plans. American Diabetes Association.|
|↑9||Saslow, Laura R., Sarah Kim, Jennifer J. Daubenmier, Judith T. Moskowitz, Stephen D. Phinney, Veronica Goldman, Elizabeth J. Murphy, Rachel M. Cox, Patricia Moran, and Fredrick M. Hecht. “A randomized pilot trial of a moderate carbohydrate diet compared to a very low carbohydrate diet in overweight or obese individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes.” PloS one 9, no. 4 (2014): e91027.|
|↑10||Carbohydrates and Diabetes. University of California San Francisco Medical Center.|
|↑11||What Can I Drink? American Diabetes Association.|