***This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose any disease. The information in this article is not a substitute for medical care or advice provided by your healthcare team. Please consult your doctor or dietitian for specific, personalized treatment.***
You may be wondering if you can eat bananas when you have diabetes. Afterall, bananas tend to get a bad rep from even those without diabetes due to their sugar content.
As a dietitian and diabetes educator living with type 1 diabetes, I hear several questions and concerns from people with diabetes about eating bananas and other fruit. You can read more about eating fruit with diabetes in my other article.
In this article, we will cover the benefits and cons of bananas and how they may impact your diabetes.
Banana nutrition info
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central, one medium-sized (115 g) ripe banana contains:
- 113 calories
- 26 grams of carbs
- <1 gram of protein
- <1 gram of fat
- 3.6 grams of fiber
- 18 grams of sugar
Glycemic impact of bananas
Bananas are considered a low glycemic fruit on the glycemic index (GI) scale.
The average ripe banana has a GI of 51. Bananas that are less ripe (more green and less yellow/brown) have lower GI numbers.
One medium, ripe banana contains about 18 grams of a sugar.
The two main types of sugar in a banana and other fruits are glucose and fructose. Glucose is quickly released into your bloodstream and used for energy while fructose goes to the liver to be broken down. This leads to a slower rise in blood sugar.
With this slower rise in blood sugar, eating a banana is actually beneficial for people with diabetes.
Benefits of eating bananas
There are also many other benefits to eating bananas when you have diabetes.
Eating a banana is an easy and delicious way to get in a good amount of fiber. Blood sugar spikes are less likely to happen after eating when that food contains fiber.
Fiber also helps with weight management, lowers cholesterol, and improves bowel movements.
Bananas are a good source of certain fibers like prebiotics, resistant starch, and pectin.
You’ve likely heard the term, probiotics, which are tiny microorganisms intended to improve health. Prebiotics are essentially fiber/food for the good bacteria in your gut.
All prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is prebiotic. In order to be a prebiotic, the fiber must resist digestion, be fermented by the gut, and increase the growth and activity of certain bacteria thought to benefit health (1).
A banana is an example of a carbohydrate food considered to have prebiotic fiber.
This essentially means that when you eat a banana, not only are you feeding yourself, but the good bacteria in your gut as well!
Resistant starch is a type of prebiotic fiber. Green bananas, or less ripe bananas, contain larger amounts of resistant starch.
When you eat resistant starch, the activity of the beneficial bacteria genus, Bifidobacterium, increases (1).
Pectin is another type of fiber found in bananas.
Research supports that pectin lowers LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol in your body, as high levels of LDL cholesterol are linked to heart disease and stroke (1).
Vitamins and minerals
Like all fruit, bananas contain important vitamins and minerals.
Bananas are an excellent source of the mineral, potassium, which helps with nerve function, heart. and muscle health. Bananas also contain magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamins A, C, K, and B6 (2).
Along with vitamins and minerals, bananas also contain antioxidants.
Antioxidants are important as they protect against damaging free radicals in the body linked to certain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and arthritis (3).
Bananas are a good source of dietary antioxidants like carotenoids and phenolics.
Research indicates that lycopene, a carotenoid with high antioxidant activity found in bananas, is linked to protection against prostate cancer in men (3).
Ferulic acid, a phenolic present in bananas, is also associated with health benefits such as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. (3).
For an easy snack on the go, bananas are already safe inside their peels and ready to travel. Most grocery stores and gas stations carry bananas, and they are one of the most affordable fruits (3).
Make it a blood sugar balancing snack by adding a protein and/or fat:
- Lightly coat a banana in peanut butter and a thin layer of melted dark chocolate before freezing it
- Blend a frozen banana into your protein shake
- Top a bowl of Greek yogurt with banana slices
- Eat a banana with a handful of walnuts, pecans, or peanuts
- Add banana slices to a piece of whole grain toast with nut butter
Flavorful addition to recipes
Add bananas to recipes to boost their flavor and add fiber and minerals. You can add them to pancakes, protein shakes, bread, cake, smoothies, cereal, and more.
The fiber in bananas binds with water in your gut and helps firm up stools. There is even a nutrition supplement called, Banatrol Plus, which uses banana flakes to help relieve diarrhea.
Cons of eating bananas
Now that we’ve covered the benefits, let’s review the cons. When you have diabetes, there are a few cons and things to consider when eating bananas.
No protein or fat
In terms of macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein), bananas only contain carbs and no protein or fat.
Without protein or fat, it’s difficult for a banana to keep you full if that’s the only thing you’re eating. It’s also more likely for your blood sugar to spike when only eating carbs.
This is because it takes much longer for your body to digest protein and fat which leads to a slower release of sugar into your blood.
Not for kidney disease
It’s not uncommon for those living with diabetes to also have chronic kidney disease. This disease happens in stages with the end stage being kidney failure.
Part of your kidneys’ job is to remove extra potassium from your bloodstream. If your kidneys don’t work or don’t work as well, you may end up with too much potassium in your blood.
Too much potassium in the blood causes serious heart problems.
Because bananas are a rich source of potassium, your dietitian and/or doctor may tell you to avoid high potassium foods like bananas at certain stages of kidney disease.
Individual glycemic response
There are other things that may impact how your body responds to the glycemic load of a banana.
Physical activity level, metabolism, illness, age, length of disease, hormones, pregnancy, insulin sensitivity, timing of insulin, medications, banana ripeness, etc. can all impact your individual blood sugar response to eating a banana.
For example, if I eat a banana with a spoonful of peanut butter and dose my insulin based on my insulin-to-carb ratio, my numbers normally stay in range. But, if I eat that same banana with peanut butter when I have a cold or haven’t moved all day, my blood sugar tends to go above target.
If you find yourself having a high spike after eating a banana or other carb food, consider if it may be due to one of the factors mentioned above.
FAQ about bananas and diabetes
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about bananas from my time teaching diabetes education classes.
Won’t my blood sugar spike when I eat a banana?
A banana is a food that contains carbs and carbs raise blood sugar. Choosing to eat one or half of a banana and pairing it with a protein and/or fat source like peanut butter can lessen the impact of the banana on blood sugar.
Are bananas bad for diabetes?
Unless you have a banana allergy, bananas are not bad for people with diabetes. Bananas and other fruit raise blood sugar slowly due to their fiber and types of sugar. It’s best to mostly eat sources of carbs that slowly raise blood sugar vs carbs that rapidly spike blood sugar when managing diabetes.
Don’t bananas have too much sugar?
Carb counting, not sugar counting, is the best tool for diabetes management. Many foods do not have sugar but still have carbs and will still spike blood sugar. Sugar is part of carbs and will not be higher than the total carb amount.
And remember, if you avoid fruit due to it containing sugar, you miss out on its health benefits such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Can people with type 2 diabetes eat bananas?
The same guidance for eating bananas or any fruit applies to all types of diabetes. For more stable blood sugars, measure fruit portions and eat it with a source of protein and/or fat.
Can people with type 1 diabetes eat bananas?
Yep! See the above answer for people with type 2 diabetes. Count the carbs from the banana based on your portion size (a whole, a half, etc.) and dose your insulin accordingly.
A ripe banana can even be a convenient carb source to have on hand for treating low blood sugars. Just make sure in this case that you don’t add protein and fat with it until your blood sugar is in a safe range for you.
How many carb choices is a banana?
A serving of carbs contains 15 grams of carbs and is 1 carb choice. Half of a banana contains about 15 grams of carbs and is 1 carb choice. So, if you eat a whole, medium sized banana, you’re eating about 30 grams of carbs or 2 carb choices.
So, can people with diabetes eat bananas?
Yes! If you enjoy bananas and have diabetes, you can still have in range blood sugars while eating a banana or other fruits.
Being aware of the banana portion, knowing its carbs, pairing it with protein and/or fat, and taking insulin or other diabetes medications (if you’re on them) will help keep blood sugars more stable.
If you want more information about diabetes nutrition, check out my other resources:
- Carb Counting Cheat Sheet
- Free eBook: Eating With Diabetes: A Guide for Beginners
- Low Glycemic Fruit: Are They Good for Diabetes?
Megan is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, and a Certified Insulin Pump Trainer. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Iowa State University. She has had type 1 diabetes since she was 11 years old and has taught diabetes education for many years.