Is Papaya Good for Diabetes? 

Check out this Southeast Asian Nutrition article!

Diabetes in the Community 

In the Southeast Asian community, diabetes has emerged as a growing concern, affecting both young and old alike. The prevalence of type 2 and the increasing number of type 1, with no family history of type 1, has also grown in the community. According to the CDC, there are 1 in 3 Asian Americans who have diabetes and don’t know it yet, compared to 1 in 5 nationwide who have diabetes and don’t know it yet (1). 

Therefore, it is crucial to embrace strategies for the effective and timely management of blood sugar levels. As interest in natural approaches to diabetes control continues to rise, individuals frequently look to food choices to understand how to navigate this invisible condition. Questions arise regarding which foods are suitable, when to consume them, and how to do so. A common inquiry I’ve encountered is, “Is papaya good for diabetes?” So, let’s talk more about Papaya.

Nutritional Profile of Papaya

In the SEA community, most of us love Som Tum aka Papaya salad but what about someone with diabetes can they eat it? Let’s explore papaya, the fruit itself first. Papaya isn’t just a tropical delight; it’s a nutritional powerhouse that packs a punch. It contains good amounts of vitamins like C, A, and E.  

In addition, this vibrant fruit contributes essential antioxidants that aid in supporting overall health. These antioxidants can play a vital role in combating oxidative stress and oxidative stress can contribute to diabetes complications. Minerals such as potassium in papaya can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels and improve heart function. But what about its carbohydrate content?

Carbs of Papaya

For those with diabetes, the carbohydrate content of foods often raises a red flag. But don’t be alarmed, carbs are needed in the diet. A cup of cubed papaya fruit contains about 16 grams of carbohydrates. While this might seem like a concern, the story doesn’t end there. Papaya has 2.5 grams of dietary fiber per cup. Fiber slows down digestion and the absorption of sugars, which results in a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels (2).  

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load of Papaya

Furthermore, let’s look at the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL). These measures reflect how quickly and how much a particular food can cause blood sugar levels to rise. Papaya, with its low GI of 38 and a low GL of 7, is a friend to those managing diabetes (3). The slow and steady increase in blood sugar after consuming papaya is a testament to its suitability for keeping glucose levels in check. 

Incorporating Papaya into a Southeast Asian Diabetes Diet

Furthermore, the most iconic, beloved papaya dish would be Som Tum, also known as Green Papaya salad. So, how does that affect blood sugars and is Som Tum healthy for diabetes? Som Tum is shredded raw, unripe green papaya mixed with fresh garlic, chilis, fish sauce, lime, sugar, tamarind, cherry tomatoes, and depending on regions could have crab paste, shrimp paste, and peanuts. 

Hence, the additional sugar contributes to higher carbohydrate content and increases the GI and GL of the dish. The salt from the fermented paste and fish sauce increases the sodium content as well. Thus, how does one make some modifications to control the sugar and salt?

Papaya Salad Modifications for Healthier Diabetes-Friendly Version

1. Reduce Sugar:

-Traditional recipes often include a significant amount of sugar. You can reduce or gradually reduce the added sugar.

2. Choose a Different Sweetener:

-If you still want some sweetness, consider using a different sweetener like monk fruit, allulose, or a sugar substitute that is tolerable. 

3. Control Salt:

-Be mindful of the salt content in your salad. Use less fish sauce, and fermented fish/shrimp paste to reduce the sodium levels.  

4. Increase Vegetables:

-Include a variety of colorful vegetables like cherry tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, and long green beans to increase the nutrient content of the salad. These vegetables add fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

5. Add Protein:

-To make the salad more balanced and satisfying, add lean protein sources like grilled or boiled shrimp, tofu, and unsalted peanuts. This will help keep you feeling full and provide essential nutrients.

6. Pair with Lower GI, GL Carbs:

-If you want to serve the salad with rice, opt for brown rice, parboiled rice, rice that has been cooled in the fridge overnight and reheated (resistant starch), or other whole grains. 

By applying these suggestions, you can create a more nutritious version of Som Tum and still enjoy a beloved dish without feeling excluded.  

Precautions and Considerations for Adding Papaya in the Diet

As you start to consider to include papaya in your diabetes management plan, keep in mind that individualized needs vary. Factors such as medication, timing of intake, and personal responses to papaya can influence blood sugar levels. It’s always wise to consult your healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet. They can provide guidance tailored to your unique situation. Remember, checking your blood sugars in pairs will help you determine better how papaya affects your blood sugars. 

Is Papaya Good for Diabetes? Conclusion

In conclusion, papaya is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Its lower glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) make it a favorable carbohydrate choice, leading to gradual rather than sharp increases in blood sugar levels. It can be part of a healthy diet, even for those with Diabetes, when tailored to individual needs. 

By following the suggestions to make healthier versions of dishes like Som Tum, you can continue to enjoy the delightful taste of papaya while maintaining a focus on your overall health goals. Remember, your journey toward optimal health is an ongoing work of art.

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