An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? The ‘forbidden fruit’ has a long and interesting history, and with all the health benefits added to the mix, there are many reasons to pay attention to the humble apple. As one of the most popular fruits in the world, apples are delicious and nutritious. They’re loaded with things like vitamin C, are a good source of fiber, and may even have some effects on insulin levels and your efforts to control blood sugar.
While we know that apples are nutrient-packed, let’s take a minute to examine just how much they affect your blood sugar levels and what other health benefits they have. Read on to find out more about what people with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, or the risk of diabetes should know about this delicious fruit.
What About the Carbohydrate Content?
All fruit contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are what your body breaks down into glucose, or sugar, to use for fuel. Anything high in carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Still, it may be easy to balance your diet while moderating the foods you love.
Apples can contain a variable amount of carbs, depending on their size and type. An apple usually has around 15-18 grams of carbohydrates (we’ve got a list of some of these below). Luckily, apples contain high amounts of fiber in the skin, which may be able to help prevent blood sugar spikes, as well as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are found in many different types of fruits, vegetables, and grains. They include flavonoids, flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and procyanidins.
Apples also contain polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds found in plants and have been shown to slow down the rate at which sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream. This may prevent the occurrence of blood sugar spikes even when you’re eating carbohydrate-rich foods. Some studies show that polyphenols are linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Let’s Discuss Fiber
Fiber is technically a carbohydrate and is counted in the total carbohydrate count on nutritional labels. But while fiber is classified as a carb, it doesn’t break down into sugars like other carbs do. It actually helps slow down the process of sugar being absorbed into the bloodstream, and can even limit the amount of sugar absorbed.
When you digest food that contains fiber, the fiber adds mass and weight to your stool by binding to compounds and attracting water to it. Not only does this make it easier for your body to process waste, but it may also lower your uptake of sugars from the carbs that you eat.
Fiber also causes you to feel full more quickly and for longer. This may prevent overeating and may help you curb sugar cravings. Since apples are rich in fiber, this helps to make them a blood sugar-friendly food and a smart snack choice when you want to indulge in something sweet.
If you are going to eat an “apple a day,” make sure to leave the skin on so that you get all of the benefits of the fiber it contains. Size matters too, so consider whether a small, large or medium apple changes any health benefits you get from the fruit. And remember, peeling your apple can remove all of those benefits and leave you more prone to a blood glucose spike.
Apples and Insulin
Insulin is produced by your pancreas to help control your blood sugar levels when your body breaks down carbohydrates. Insulin then takes that sugar from your bloodstream to the cells that need it for fuel. Studies have shown that people who eat apples regularly begin to see reduced insulin resistance. People who suffer from diabetes often don’t produce enough insulin or have a resistance to insulin that causes too much sugar to remain in their bloodstream.
Apples are loaded with polyphenols which is what is linked to reduced insulin resistance. Polyphenols are found in the skin of the apple—keep the skin on so that you don’t lose out on all the benefits!
Eating Apples the Healthy Way
Like everything else, even though apples are packed full of nutrition, you may want to eat them in moderation. Try eating apples [and all fruit] throughout the day instead of eating a lot in one sitting. Not only will this help prevent a blood sugar spike, but it will also add healthy fiber to your meals. You should check with a healthcare professional regarding how much fiber you should be adding to your diet or if you’re at risk of diabetes.
If you’re a fan of dried fruits, remember that most dried fruit contains added sugar and will be more likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Similarly, apple juice is much higher in sugar. When apples are juiced, they also lose their fiber, so you lose out on that sugar buffer. It’s best to check nutrition labels on dried fruits and fruit juices to know how much sugar is in what you consume. Drinking fruit juices regularly has also been linked to having a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Opt for the whole fruit and prioritize fresh fruit intake over dried fruit to get the maximum nutrient and fiber value.
When you consume a fruit like an apple on its own, you may see a blood sugar spike. A good tip to avoid this is to pair protein or fat with the fruit to blunt or mitigate a spike in your blood sugars. Because the combination of protein and fat can help slow carbohydrate digestion when paired with fruit, they can help stabilize your blood sugar. A good example is to pair sliced apples with one or two tablespoons of your favorite natural nut butter.
Different Types of Apples and Their Nutritional Value
We all have a favorite kind of apple [Granny Smith, anyone?!]. This is probably because of the texture or sweetness level of the varietal. Each varietal also has different nutritional content, including carb count, fiber count, and sugar count. Curious about your favorite type? Listed below are five varieties of apple that you will likely encounter in most grocery stores so that you can see how they differ in nutritional value:
What About Apples And Diabetes Management?
Due to the presence of polyphenols and antioxidants, yes, apples can help to prevent diabetes. Antioxidants combat harmful chemical reactions in your body. According to a study released by the National Library of Medicine, Red Delicious and Honeycrisp apples contain the most antioxidants out of all apple varieties.
Three antioxidants that may help combat diabetes risk are chlorogenic acid, phlorizin, and quercetin. Chlorogenic acid is believed to make the use of sugar in your body more efficient. Phlorizin is believed to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. And quercetin is thought to slow down carbohydrate digestion. Combined with the known advantages of consuming polyphenols, antioxidants in apples seem to be a good combatant against developing diabetes.
How Nutrisense Can Help You Understand Your Blood Sugar Levels
Do you want to know what the apples you’re eating are doing to your blood sugar levels? Try using a CGM by subscribing to one of the programs from Nutrisense and take advantage of continuous glucose monitoring. The sensors are easy to apply and can help track your blood glucose levels using an innovative app. There’s also a team of registered dietitians available to help you interpret that data.
They can also guide you to make the lifestyle and dietary changes you need to become your healthiest self. Want to see what other food and fruit intake you may need, how to develop a diabetes management plan, or just want to optimize your health? Sign up for the Nutrition Coaching Program, which can help you dive deeper into your routines and habits.
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.
With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.
Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.
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Kara Collier is the co-founder and VP of Health at Nutrisense, one of America’s fastest-growing wellness-tech startups, where she leads the health team. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, frequent podcast guest & conference speaker.