When Lori Chong bought a juicer, she hoped she would be able to create low-carb concoctions that wouldn’t spike her blood sugar too much. As a person with diabetes herself, Chong understands the importance of tracking carb intake.
But within weeks, Chong, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, had set aside her juicer and returned to eating full fruits and vegetables instead. Now, she hardly uses the device at all.
Juicing for People With Diabetes: Is It Safe?
“I don’t think juicing is the best idea for people with diabetes,” says Chong, who has type 1 diabetes. She explains that people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes need to control their blood sugar not only throughout the day, but at any individual point in the day as well. While juicing can be safe if you focus on nonstarchy, or low-carbohydrate, vegetables, and limit diabetes-friendly fruits, the overall carbs in juices can add up quickly, Chong says. Consuming too many carbs can be dangerous for people with diabetes, as they’re broken down into glucose in the blood, thereby spiking blood sugar. Blood sugar control is imperative for effective diabetes management.
Anna Simos, CDE, MPH, manager of the diabetes education and prevention program at Stanford Health Care in California, agrees with Chong. “Regardless of whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, juicing concentrates the fruits,” Simos explains. Because juice isn’t as filling, it’s much easier to drink more carbohydrates than you would eat in whole fruit. By juicing something like an orange, for example, you strip the fruit of its fiber and thus increase the glycemic index of that fruit, she says. The glycemic index measures foods’ effect on blood sugar. Although most whole fruits rank relatively low on the index, and are thus safe to eat in moderation with diabetes, consuming them in their juice form reduces that benefit. In fact, a study published in August 2013 in The BMJ found that while munching on whole fruits, like blueberries, apples, and grapes, was linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, drinking fruit juice was associated with a significantly higher risk of the disease.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Juicing for People with Diabetes
One of the biggest perks people see in juicing is it helps them more easily consume their daily recommended servings of produce, especially vegetables, Simos says. Not to mention it can be fun to act as a sort of “master mixologist” of fruits and vegetables to get in your vitamins. But by eliminating the fiber from these foods, you’re taking away the parts that are so beneficial to your digestive, or gastrointestinal (GI), tract, Simos says.
Simos urges caution against the popular notion that juicing is good for you because it allows your body to get tons of nutrients without overworking your digestive system. “The whole concept of giving your GI tract a rest doesn’t make sense to me,” she says, noting that there may be exceptions for some individuals whose general physicians have recommended otherwise. “The GI tract needs to be stimulated with that fiber.” Furthermore, Simos adds, there’s no actual research that shows juicing can help prevent diseases like cancer — another claim some proponents of juicing have made. If you’re concerned about having an overwhelmed GI tract, talk to your doctor before juicing for this expected benefit.
For Chong, it was the quickly escalating carbs that led her to stop juicing. She found that even while juicing mostly vegetables, she would end up with 4 ounces (oz) of juices with nearly 15 grams of carbs — which is comparable to some fruit juices. That’s because she had to add in so many vegetables to get a similar amount of juice that the relatively low carbs in those vegetables began to add up fast.
How to Juice Responsibly With Diabetes
“I hate to say no to anyone who wants to promote their health,” Simos says. While neither Simos nor Chong recommends juicing, they both shared some tips for people with diabetes who may be interested in trying this practice:
Drink small amounts of juice. Limit the amount of juice you drink at any one time to about 4 to 8 oz, Simos recommends.
Drink juice with a meal. Doing so will help you get protein, fiber, and fat that could slow the bump in your blood sugar, Simos says.
Focus on nonstarchy vegetables. Opt for vegetables like celery, kale, broccoli, and cucumber, which won’t have as big an impact on your blood sugar, Simos says.
Keep the serving of fruit in your juice to just one. That way, Chong notes, you’ll add a little sweetness to your drink without spiking your blood sugar too much.
Here are just a few juice concoctions these experts suggest:
- Cucumber with one apple (Chong)
- Carrot with half a grapefruit (Chong)
- Cucumber with pear, ginger, and lemon (Simos)
- Green or spicy peppers with tomatoes (Simos)
In short, if you have diabetes and are set on trying this health trend, there are safe ways to do so — but pay attention to the sneaky amount of carbs in juices, monitor your blood sugar, and consider seeking the advice of a healthcare professional who can help guide you.