Smoothies for People with Diabetes

Smoothies may seem like a healthful option, but they can be a very bad choice for people who have diabetes.

Many people with diabetes are well-informed about what they can and cannot eat. They know also that choosing premade meals, snacks, and drinks can be challenging. People with diabetes have to be very careful when ordering smoothies in restaurants, as these often contain far too much sugar and not enough protein and fat.

With some modifications, however, smoothies can be enjoyed either at home or at a restaurant.

Things to consider when making a smoothie

People with diabetes must pay careful attention to their carbohydrate intake. Avoiding low-quality carbohydrates, such as sugar or white flour, and using dietary fiber as their guide in choosing carbohydrates, are the best dietary options for them.

A person with diabetes should consider some of the following:

Extra fat can be a good thing

[avocado cucumber and chia seed smoothie]
There are many sources of healthful fats that can be used in smoothies, such as avocado and chia seeds.

The debate can be very confusing between good and bad fat, what is good and bad cholesterol, and the ever-changing guidelines on what offers the best balance between them.

However, in short, some fats are very beneficial to people with diabetes, as they help slow down the speed at which sugar enters the blood.

Some sources of fat that can be added to a morning smoothie include:

  • almond or peanut butter
  • chia seeds
  • avocado
  • raw pecans
  • raw walnuts
  • coconut oil

Include extra protein

Similarly to fat, protein offers many health benefits that are particularly important to people with diabetes. For example, high-protein content slows the absorption of food, which reduces the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream.

Protein does not always need to come from an animal or animal byproduct. Many foods contain high amounts of protein, and adding them to a smoothie in the morning will offer great benefits.

Some proteins to include in a smoothie include:

  • plain Greek yogurt
  • hemp seeds, and other seeds
  • almonds
  • pea protein
  • whey protein
  • milk

Make the smoothie high in fiber

Soluble fiber found in some carbohydrates is ideal for people with diabetes to consume. Unlike sugar and simple carbohydrates, which cause dangerous spikes and crashes in blood sugar, fiber is much more like protein and fat in that it is harder to breakdown.

[spinach smoothies on a wooden table]
Adding leafy greens like spinach can ensure that a smoothie is nutritious and high in fiber.

This slow digestion means that fiber, along with sugar from carbohydrates, enters the bloodstream over a period of time rather than in quick bursts.

Foods high in fiber that might work well in a smoothie include:

  • most fruits, including raspberries, oranges, nectarines, peaches, and blueberries
  • vegetables, including leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
  • nuts
  • chia seeds

Avoid adding extra sugar

Most people with diabetes know that adding extra sugar to their diet should be avoided. Many foods already have sugar in them, and many others have hidden sugars. For example, canned fruits are preserved in sugar-filled syrups, and honey and maple syrup are also, basically, sugar.

Some alternatives to milk, such as almond or soy milk, may also contain added sugar. When making a smoothie, it is important not to add extra sugar or sweetened ingredients. However, there are ways to make it more flavorful.

Limit carbohydrate servings to three or less

When making a smoothie, a person with diabetes must make sure they know the amount of carbohydrate they are putting it. In general, people with diabetes should look to include 45 grams (g) or less of carbohydrates. Using measuring cups, spoons and the diabetes exchange list, is a good way to measure how many carbohydrates to put in the smoothie.

Low-GI level fruits and vegetables

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food item will raise blood sugar. Generally, a lower-scoring food means that sugar in it will absorb more slowly than a food with a higher GI.

All fruits and vegetables have different GI scores, as they all contain different amounts of sugar and fiber. Generally, foods with a rating of around 50 or less are considered good.

Glycemic load (GL) is also calculated to compensate for how many grams of carbohydrates are in a typical serving. This gives a more accurate picture of how the food will actually affect people’s blood sugar levels. A GL of less than 10 is low, while a GL greater than 20 is high.

Good smoothie fruits

In terms of making a fruit smoothie, people with diabetes should use fruits that have low GI and GL levels.

[cherry smoothie bowl]
Cherries have a low GI score, making them a delicious and healthful addition to a smoothie.

Here are a few examples of fruits with low GI scores:

  • cherries have a GI Score of 22, and a GL of 3
  • grapefruits have a GI Score of 25 and a GL of 3
  • pears have a GI Score of 38 and a GL of 4.2
  • apples have a GI Score of 38 and a GL of 5.7
  • plums have a GI Score of 39 and a GL of 5.7
  • strawberries have a GI Score of 40 and a GL of 3.8
  • oranges have a GI Score of 42 and a GL of 5.9
  • raspberries have a GI Score of 32 and a GL of 2.6

Good smoothie vegetables

Vegetables also have different GI scores.

Here are a few examples of low scoring vegetables that would be good in a smoothie:

  • green peas have a GI Score of 54 and a GL of 4
  • carrots have a GI Score of 71 but a GL of 6
  • pumpkin has a GI Score of 75 but a GL of 3
  • spinach has a GI Score of 15 and a GL of 0
  • broccoli has a GI Score of 10 and a GL of 0
  • cabbage has a GI Score of 10 and a GL of 0
  • kale has a GI Score of 2-4 and a GL of 0

Other good ingredients to use

A good smoothie often contains more than just fruits, vegetables, and a fat source. Other ingredients can add both flavor and nutrition. Some additional ingredients to think about include:

[raw almond milk in a glass bottle]
Unsweetened almond or soy milk is a good alternative to regular milk for people looking to avoid dairy.
  • unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • ice for extra chill
  • reduced-fat or whole milk
  • a small amount of oatmeal
  • extracts, such as vanilla or almond
  • cinnamon
  • cocoa powder
  • black coffee
  • natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • nutmeg
  • ginger
  • turmeric

Considerations for people with diabetes and another health condition

People with diabetes may have other existing conditions to contend with, such as high blood pressure, obesity, celiac disease, and lactose intolerance. These other conditions may limit what kinds of ingredients can be used in a smoothie.

Lactose intolerance

People who are lactose intolerant should avoid adding dairy milk or any byproducts of dairy milk, such as yogurt, to a smoothie. Almond milk or soy milk are good alternatives, and they can be used instead of milk in nearly any smoothie recipe.

Celiac disease

People who have celiac disease are unable to eat anything that contains gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Most smoothies do not contain wheat naturally, but for people who like to add whey protein to their smoothie, it may become an issue.

Whey itself is gluten-free, but some manufacturers add fillers with gluten in them. Either check the label before buying or try other, plant-derived proteins.

Obesity

People who are overweight or obese will need to control their calorie level and emphasize plant foods and fiber. In general, a smoothie that is suitable for a person with diabetes will probably be suitable for a person who is overweight.

High blood pressure

People who have high blood pressure should avoid coffee-based smoothies and stick to vegetable and fruit smoothies instead. There are many foods that people with high blood pressure can eat, including beets, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits. All of these can be good additions to a smoothie.

People with high blood pressure should also avoid foods that contain excess salt.

Other health benefits of smoothies

Smoothies can offer a complete liquid meal. Often drunk at the beginning of the day, they can contain enough protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat to keep a person satisfied.

In addition, smoothies can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs. The more nutrients a person gets, the better their overall health. Proper nourishment can improve a person’s cholesterol levels, reduce fat, build muscle, promote healthier nervous and circulatory systems, and improve energy levels.