Diabetes Friendly Food, Really?


This morning while checking out the blogs on Diabetes Daily, I noticed a link to Prevention Magazine with the title 14 Fantastically Healthy Foods for Diabetes. I love Top 10 lists even when they’re top 14.  And if they have to do with food and diabetes, I’m sold.

Most of the things on the list were not all that surprising to me: beans, dairy (so vague!), salmon, tuna, barley, oats, berries, dates…

Excuse my language, but WTF?  Dates? Really? Diabetes Friendly Food? Was the list one of those tests where you have to identify the one thing that does not belong?   

I used to run with dates in my pocket to treat lows and found that many times they were too effective.  They brought my blood sugar up too high too fast and I never ate more than one at a time.    

But since the media is known to provide nothing but accurate information about diabetes, I decided that I should double check myself just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken about the effect of dates on blood sugar.  Perhaps my own experience was not indicative of anything.  To my mind, dates could not be considered a diabetes friendly food, unless being used to bring one back from a severe case of hypoglycemia, in which case they would make them a great companion.  But what do I know?

Here’s what Prevention has to say about dates: “These chewy fruits aren’t much to look at—plain and brown and a little sticky. But pop one in your mouth and you’ll be rewarded with a sweet taste and delightful texture.”  Not much to look at, but Prevention chose to use a photo of dried dates as the cover image for the story.

I agree with Prevention on this point, though, dates may look like cockroaches, but they do have a nice sweet taste, as they should since they are sweet as honey, which is why they are used all over the Middle East to produce date honey or nectar, often used to make baklava (those extremely sweet Middle Eastern cakes).

Prevention continues and with some nutritional information. They say dates have a generous supply of fiber [7 dates supply 4g], which makes them a perfect diabetes-friendly snack. They’re also jam-packed with antioxidants—with more per serving than grapes, oranges, broccoli, and peppers, according to one study.”

Here’s what Michael Aviad has to say about dates:   

According to nutritiondata.com 1 date [dried, like in the picture on Prevention] has 18g of carb of which 2 are fiber and 16 are sugar.  They also have 66 calories per date.  Furthermore, dates are not very rich in any other vitamins or minerals.

So let’s do a little math.  If you eat 7 dates, as Prevention suggests, you’ll be getting 14 grams of fiber, much more than Prevention leads you to believe, 112 grams of sugar, and 462 calories.   

Another interesting nutritional fact most people with diabetes would be interested in is that dates have a GI of 103!  Table sugar has a GI of 100.

Prevention goes on to tell us how to eat the dates.  “Stuff dates with pecan or walnut halves for a satisfying snack, or toss them into breads and cookies.”  Yes, fellow diabetics, when choosing a way to eat your diabetes friendly dates go with the bread and cookies. That has long been hailed as healthiest way to eat any diabetes superfood such as a cookie.

And while you’re at it, you can get your daily dose of vitamin C while washing your date cookie down with a glass of orange juice.

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6 years ago

The NIH did a study and concluded that dates (5 varieties) did not significantly spike blood glucose levels, for diabetic and non diabetic people. “Glycemic indices of five varieties of dates in healthy and diabetic subjects” by Juma M Alkaabi et al “The results show low glycemic indices for the five types of dates included in the study and that their consumption by diabetic individuals does not result in significant postprandial glucose excursions. These findings point to the potential benefits of dates for diabetic subjects when used in a healthy balanced diet.” I suspect that’s where Prevention got its data.… Read more »

Vidya Sury
6 years ago

Hahaha, I couldn’t stop laughing after I read your post. I love to read top 10 lists (regardless of the number of items) and MUST read anything diabetes related. Oh boy, oh boy!

Your last lines had me completely cracking up.

I was diagnosed with type 2 in early 2013 and besides the standard advice, have found a lot of contradictory stuff about the same foods. Be that as it may… some things just do not make sense. Dates in breads and cookies washed down with orange juice – oh yeah. In my dreams. :) Great to meet you!

Anya Myers
Anya Myers
7 years ago

Another interesting study worth mentioning, from 2011, is “Glycemic indices of five varieties of dates in healthy and diabetic subjects,” found at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3112406/ Be sure to read the “Limitations of the study” section near the end of the report to learn how the results could apply to your own situation. If nothing else some of these studies give us a hint how Prevention arrived at their initially confounding conclusion that dates are a “diabetes-friendly snack.”

7 years ago

This study: http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v57/n3/full/1601565a.html#close contradicts the claim that dates have a high GI, especially when mixed with other foods.

Chad Hooley
Chad Hooley
8 years ago

According tho the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (based on a study done in the UAE) dates may have a high sugar content but they have a low GI, being the same as or lower than most fresh fruits… this is at a serving size of 6-10 dates per meal.

Catherine Price
10 years ago

Hey David,
I mentioned your site only because I was hanging out there when I saw the link to Prevention. I know that it was an automated link of some sort and not what you guys think is diabetes friendly food.
I mean anyone who knows anything about diabetes would catch that one.

Laura G.
Laura G.
10 years ago

Looking on the bright side, a date is a little messier than 3.5 glucose tabs but much tastier. 

David Edelman
10 years ago

Okay, it’s gone. I’m glad it resulted in a little real education over at A Sweet Life. :)

David Edelman
10 years ago

Yikes. That’s awful! 

Now to figure out how to block that link…

Dr. Margaret A. Morris
10 years ago

Dates are one of the foods I am sad to lose as a diabetic. I can nibble at a date, but a full medjool date? Sends me sky high. And my mother’s *fabulous* haroset I can only taste delicately as a result :( California dates are a little less extreme– according to calorie lists, 3 have the same caloric content as a single medjool date ( http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-dried-fruits-california-pitted-dates_f-ZmlkPTEyNzkyNw.html vs. http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-fresh-fruits-dates-medjool-edible-portion_f-ZmlkPTE1ODE4OA.html ), but it’s still just sugar, and also totally not worth it for the California ones, because they don’t taste nearly as good.

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