Grapes have been grown since as early as 6500 BC, and from table grapes to raisins, jams, wine, grape juice, and grape seed oil, there are countless ways to incorporate grapes into your diet. As of 2022, a whopping 72 million tons of grapes are now produced annually, meaning that this versatile and popular fruit is very likely to show up in your diet from time to time.
As carbohydrates, grapes are a great energy source and contain antioxidants and micronutrients. However, while grapes can pose a problem for people with diabetes due to their high sugar content, you might be surprised to learn that grapes have a low glycemic index, or low GI, which lowers their blood glucose impact.
So, are grapes safe for people with diabetes to include in their diet? Do they raise your blood sugar levels, lower them, or have no significant effect on them at all? Read on to find out.
Types of Grapes
You may be familiar with the red, green, black, and white varieties of table grapes you’d typically find in your local grocery store. But there are over 10,000 types of grapes grown worldwide and used to make everything from wine to jam.
Table grapes tend to be larger and less acidic than wine grapes, which contain lots of seeds and are cultivated to be sweeter. Despite their different flavors, all grapes are low in calories, with about 30 calories per half cup of grapes.
From wine favorites chardonnay, merlot, riesling, and pinot noir varieties to common vine and concord, here are some of the most popular types:
- Common vine
- Cotton candy
- Red globe
- Pinot noir
Grapes and Blood Sugar Levels
If you’re watching your sugar intake, grapes might be something you’ve hesitated to add to your diet because of their high sugar content and lack of protein and fat. The sugar in grapes is made up of glucose and fructose, which are quickly digested by the body.
Due to their sugar content, you might be surprised to learn that grapes also have a low GI, meaning that some diabetes diets may be able to include them safely due to their low glycemic load.
Besides their low GI content, red grapes also have polyphenols, including resveratrol, quercetin, catechins, and anthocyanins. These compounds have been observed to potentially reduce hyperglycemia or high blood sugar and may benefit people with type 2 diabetes.
Although evidence has shown that grapes are safe for people with diabetes to eat, it’s essential to consume them in moderation and watch your portion sizes.
Some Health Benefits of Grapes
As a fruit, grapes possess many health benefits that can be great to include as part of a balanced diet. One important thing to note is that while all grapes contain similar nutritional value, red and other darkly colored fruits have been found to contain more flavonoids and phytonutrients than white grapes.
Some types of grapes, like concord or red grapes, may contain a higher antioxidant content.
Grapes Have Antioxidants and Phytonutrients
Berries and other whole fruits that are dark in color, such as blueberries, are typically high in antioxidants and other disease-fighting micronutrients, and red grapes are no exception. Many varieties of grapes may be helpful in preventing diseases induced by oxidative stress, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer due to the flavonoids they contain. In addition to their high antioxidant content, grapes have been found to have anti-inflammatory qualities.
You May Experience a Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
The flavonoids and resveratrol found in red grapes may aid in preventing heart disease and reducing the risk of high blood pressure and respiratory diseases. A study found that polyphenols in grapes may also have a positive effect on lowering LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
Grapes Can be Good for Brain and Bone Health
Grapes contain micronutrients like vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium, essential for healthy bones. Some compounds found in grapes may be helpful for reducing risk factors for certain diseases, but more research is needed.
Grapes May Help Lower Insulin Resistance
Can grapes lower your risk of type 2 diabetes? There’s not enough evidence to say ‘yes’ with any certainty. While certain compounds found in grapes may be helpful in reducing oxidative damage, which might be positive in conditions such as insulin resistance, whether or not their carbohydrate levels will be tolerated by all diabetics is questionable and requires individual assessment.
Grapes Are a Good Source of Dietary Fiber
Apart from containing healthy micronutrients, the peels of grapes are also high in fiber. Fiber is essential for feeling full and satisfied between meals and can help regulate your blood glucose levels and improve digestion. Including fiber from fruits and vegetables can also help prevent conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diverticular disease.
So, Are Grapes Safe for People with Diabetes?
The short answer is yes. Eating grapes is perfectly safe in moderation, even for those with diabetes. Fresh fruit can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet, and grapes are a good source of dietary fiber and contain vitamin C, vitamin A, and copper.
Whether you have diabetes or not, including a variety of fresh and nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables as part of your daily diet is important. Remember that adding different colored fruits and vegetables into your diet is beneficial and can help you get all those vital phytonutrients they contain.
While eating grapes is not a cure for health conditions like type 2 diabetes, they contain many compounds and micronutrients that have health benefits. Add grapes to your meals every now and then to satisfy your sugar cravings, but keep an eye on how many you’re eating along the way.
How to Add More Grapes to Your Diet
Grapes are one of the most versatile fruits out there, and there are many creative ways to sneak some extra grapes into your meals to enjoy their health benefits. There are a few habits you can try adopting to prevent your blood sugar from spiking while still enjoying foods you love.
Eating carbohydrates on their own can lead to sharp spikes in blood sugar as the body breaks them down for energy. However, when you combine carbs with fiber or protein sources, you slow down your digestion process, reducing blood sugar spikes.
1) Toss Grapes into a Salad or Savory Dish
Everyone loves a sweet and salty combo—including carbs with fiber, protein, and moderate fat can be helpful for some people in keeping glucose stable. Try throwing some cut-up grapes into a chicken salad for a light, tasty meal with protein and fats, which can help slow glucose levels from rising in the blood.
2) Make a Grape Smoothie
The sweet nature of grapes makes them a great ingredient to toss into a smoothie if you’re on the go. You can also include a dairy or fat source like unsweetened Greek yogurt or nut butter to balance your glucose response and get a good serving of all macronutrients.
3) Replace Grape Jelly with Fresh Grapes
Jellies and jams might be delicious, but they can contain more than 9 grams of added sugars per tablespoon. The next time you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try swapping the jelly with fresh grapes. The peanut butter, which also has a low GI, will help balance the carbohydrates in the bread.
4) Add Grapes to a Snack Platter
For a midday snack, try adding a handful of grapes to a cheese and nut plate for an extra touch of sweetness. This healthy balance of macronutrients is a great way to get some extra vitamins and minerals into your diet, satisfy your sweet tooth, and improve glucose stability.
Considerations When Eating Grapes
There are lots of health benefits that can come from including grapes in your diet, but there are a few considerations you might want to keep in mind.
Eating more than the recommended serving size of grapes may lead to digestion or bowel issues due to their night natural sugar content, so it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes. Some people may be sensitive to the natural sugars grapes contain, and testing different amounts to determine individual tolerance can be helpful.
The American Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes consume 15 grams of carbohydrates from fruit per serving, which adds up to about 17 small grapes or two tablespoons of raisins.
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Heather has worked in healthcare and nutrition for over 15 years, with bachelor's degrees in Microbiology and Philosophy and a master's degree in Nutrition Science. Her professional background includes nutrition and diabetes research, nutrition education, medical writing, and extensive clinical work in a functional neuroendocrine specialty practice.