Watermelon - Can diabetes eat watermelon?

If you are living with diabetes, you know that having a balanced nutrition plan is crucial to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Having a variety of fruit as part of your diabetes nutritional plan provides key nutrients to not only help manage blood sugar, but also to promote overall health and wellbeing.

Watermelon is no exception!  This sweet, juicy, summertime favorite is a crowd pleaser during picnics, beach outings, and backyard barbecues.  But, it does contain natural sugars, which may affect your blood sugar levels. However, depending on your overall diet, the amount of watermelon you consume, and your daily exercise activity, you may be able to safely eat watermelon in moderation if you are living with diabetes.

Keep reading to learn how moderately adding watermelon to your nutritional meal plan can offer you significant long-term health benefits!

How much sugar is in watermelon?

Watermelon contains natural sugars that may affect your blood sugar levels depending on how much watermelon you consume.

  • One cup, or 152 grams (g), of diced watermelon contains 9.42 g of natural sugar and 11.5 g of carbohydrates.
  • One wedge (about one-sixth of a watermelon, or 286 g) contains 17.7 g of natural sugar and 21.6 g of carbohydrates.

whole watermelon - can diabetes eat watermelon?

The health benefits of watermelon

Watermelon provides the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin A-Supports healthy vision and aids in heart, kidney and lung health
  • Vitamin C-Prevents some cancers, reduces the risk of eye-related diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration, improves cardiovascular health, reduces the duration of the common cold
  • Potassium-A mineral and an electrolyte. Electrolytes conduct electrical impulses throughout the body. They assist in a range of essential body functions, including the regulation of blood pressure, digestion, and nerve impulses
  • Magnesium-Crucial for your brain and body. It has many benefits, including converting food into energy, boosting exercise performance, regulating blood sugar levels, and helping to combat depression
  • Vitamin B6-Promotes brain health, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, helps boost your fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism and aids in the creation of red blood cells
  • Iron-Carries oxygen throughout your body via red blood cells, may combat anemia
  • Calcium-Aids in the circulation of blood, move muscles, and release hormones. Calcium also helps carry messages from your brain to other parts of your body and is a major part of tooth and bone health as well. It makes your bones strong and dense.

Along with these important vitamins and minerals, watermelon is also a great source of fiber and natural hydration! Watermelon is 90% water! Eating this fruit in moderation promotes digestive health, regular bowel movements, and helps you feel fuller longer, while satisfying your cravings for something sweet.

Watermelon has potential diabetes benefits!

While there isn’t any specific research directly connecting watermelon consumption and diabetes management, there is some evidence to suggest that eating watermelon may actually help reduce your risk for certain diabetes-related complications due to it being a moderate source of Lycopene.

Lycopene is the pigment that gives watermelon and grapefruit its distinct color, and is also a powerful antioxidant. Adults living with diabetes are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.  Therefore, adding Lycopene to your meal plan may help reduce your risk for developing and prematurely dying from cardiovascular disease. More specifically, it may reduce free-radical damage, total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increase “good” HDL cholesterol. High levels of Lycopene in your bloodstream may also add years to the lives of people with Metabolic Syndrome — a combination of health conditions that can lead to heart disease.

Where does watermelon fall on the glycemic index?

It may be helpful for people who are managing their diabetes by counting carbohydrates to also use the approach of monitoring where their foods lie on the Glycemic Index (GI) and their particular Glycemic Load (GL).

Glycemic Index (GI) vs. Glycemic Load (GL):

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a rating of how quickly sugar from a certain food enters your bloodstream. Each food item is given a GI value from 1 to 100. These values are based on how each food compares to a reference item.  White bread is generally used for reference.  Foods with a GI of 55 or less are considered low. Foods with a GI between 55 and 69 are generally considered moderate. Foods with a GI of 70 or more are considered high. Typically, foods with a low or medium GI are considered less likely to raise your blood sugar levels.

The Glycemic Load (GL) is a relatively new way to assess the impact of carbohydrate consumption on the rise of blood sugar in the body. It gives a fuller picture than GI alone. GL uses GI and the amount of total carbohydrates per serving of a specific food to estimate both how quickly a food causes blood sugar to rise and how much blood sugar levels will rise in total after eating. Some argue that the GL gives a more real-world value of how a specific food can affect blood sugar levels. Foods with a GL under 10 are considered low, 10 to 19 are considered moderate, and 19 or more are considered high.

Since watermelon typically has a GI of 72 (moderate-to-high), but a GL of 5 (low) per 120 g serving, it is considered safe to be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced meal plan.

What are some other diabetes-friendly fruits?

Although eating watermelon has many benefits, you may want to consider balancing your nutrition plan with other fruits that have a lower GI than watermelon. Choose fresh fruit when possible, as it doesn’t have any added sugars.

If you want to buy canned or frozen fruit, remember to choose canned fruits packed in  water rather than those packed in syrup. Be sure to read the label carefully and look for hidden sugars. If the only option is fruit with syrup, however, here’s a tip: drain or rinse the fruit with water to reduce the added sugar content!

Dried fruit and fruit juice should be consumed less often than fresh fruit. This is due to:

  • Calorie density
  • Sugar concentration
  • Smaller recommended portion sizes

Diabetes-friendly fruits with a low GI include:

  • Plums
  • Grapefruit
  • Peaches
  • Apricots
  • Pears
  • Berries

What does this mean for me and my diabetes management?

A small serving of watermelon may be a nutritious addition to a balanced meal plan, if you have diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating fresh, frozen, or canned fruit without added sugars as a healthy alternative to processed products that contain added sugars.

If you want to add watermelon to your nutritional meal plan, it’s best to look at your plan as a whole. Be your own advocate and discuss with your healthcare team about how to add watermelon, along with a variety of other fruits and vegetables, to your meal plan. They’ll review your current plan and look at your overall health profile.

They also may refer you to a Registered Diabetes Nutritionist to help you determine the best eating plan to manage your diabetes.

A nutritionist can:

  • Answer your questions about food
  • Recommend portion sizes
  • Advise you on possible substitutions

Watermelon has a relatively high GI but a low GL. However, you still may want to keep an eye on portion sizes and check your glucose levels after eating watermelon with a balanced meal to see how your body responds. Pairing fruit with protein may help regulate your blood sugar levels.  Why not take a short walk after eating your balanced meal to help lower your blood sugar levels, as well?

Also, try to ensure tracking your physical response to adding watermelon or any other new foods to your nutritional meal plan in a log book.  Then, you can easily share your tracking information with your healthcare team on your next visit.  Knowledge is key to overall wellness!

Above all, with a little bit of planning, go ahead and enjoy that sweet, delicious, watermelon slice! Just watch out for the seeds!

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