Don’t worry—this will not be an article claiming that apples have no effect on blood sugar, can cure cancer, and will help you land your dream job. But apples are an excellent choice for your health, and people with diabetes have good reason to reserve some of their carbohydrate budget for those in apples.
About 73 percent of shoppers in the United States make room in their carts for apples, and even though they aren’t the current star of the health food aisle, the other 27 percent of Americans should consider trying them. Apples are a healthy choice, especially for people with diabetes, because they can have a positive effect on blood sugar, protect against disease, and fill you up with relatively few calories. Apples are packed with fructose, fiber, and polyphenols, and people with diabetes can benefit from each of those elements in this tasty 95-calorie snack.
Fructose and Blood Sugar
Carbohydrates affect blood sugar, and apples do indeed have carbohydrates—about 25 of them per medium-sized apple. But because most of the sugar in apples is fructose rather than glucose or sucrose, the post-snack blood sugar spike is less severe. A 2017 study found that replacing glucose or sucrose with fructose resulted in lower post-meal blood sugars, especially in those with prediabetes, type 1, and type 2. A meta-analysis of fructose studies found that moderate consumption of fructose is safe and potentially beneficial.
Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables and is a simple sugar, or monosaccharide. Fructose is low on the glycemic index, which means that it won’t create a dramatic rise and fall in glucose levels.
Isn’t High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad For Us?
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and the fructose found in fruits and vegetables are not the same thing. HFCS is a combination of fructose and glucose made from corn-derived glucose syrup. It has a similar fructose and glucose balance as table sugar.
Fiber and Blood Sugar
About four and a half grams of a medium-sized apple’s carbohydrates are from fiber. Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar because it slows sugar absorption, and diets high in fiber can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Fiber also helps you feel full, which means you’ll be satisfied for longer. An apple’s high fiber to calorie ratio, as well as its high water content, fill you up without putting a huge dent in the day’s calorie budget.
Apples and Polyphenols
Polyphenols are plant-based chemical compounds and are our biggest source of antioxidants. The protect the body against oxidative stress and disease. Three antioxidants found in apples are especially helpful for those with diabetes:
- Quercetin. Studies have associated high quercetin consumption with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and the compound may be useful for controlling post-meal blood sugar (based on animal studies). Quercetin also protected beta cells and increased insulin secretion in animal studies.
- Chlorogenic acid. This compound stimulates glucose uptake and may help protect against diabetic complications.
- Phlorizin. This compound was also studied extensively in diabetic rats. Phlorizin helped lower blood sugar and slow down glucose absorption.
Apples and Disease
A study in Nutrition Journal concluded that apple consumption was linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. Apples were more consistently linked to disease reduction than other fruits studied, and they were also associated with weight loss. Apples are also the largest source of fruit-based polyphenols consumed in the United States.
Storage method doesn’t seem to have a huge effect on the health benefits of apples, but note that most of the polyphenols are in an apple’s skin, and the concentration and types of polyphenols varies based on apple type. For the most health benefits, enjoy mutliple apple varieties and keep the skin on. Apple juice, while great for a low blood sugar episode, doesn’t contain as many antioxidants and has very little fiber, so it’s not a good stand-in for the whole fruit.
Of course, everyone’s body is different, and you are the person who will have the best idea of how apples will affect your blood sugar. But if you’ve been unsure about this classic fruit, perhaps it’s worth a second look. Apples are great with cinnamon, peanut butter, or all by themselves, and if you can use them to replace more highly caloric sweet treats, then you’ll be doing your body a favor without punishing your taste buds. Stay healthy, friends!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.