Lychees can be a part of a healthy diet for diabetics when consumed in moderation. Lychees have a medium glycemic index (GI) of 60 and contain about 16 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams. This means they can raise blood sugar levels, especially if large portions are eaten. However, incorporating lychees into a balanced diet with careful portion control, regular blood sugar monitoring, and pairing lychees with low GI foods can allow most diabetics to enjoy lychees in moderation without spikes in blood sugar. Those with diabetes should consult their doctor or dietitian to determine appropriate portion sizes and frequency for their individual health profile.
An Overview of Lychees
Lychees, also known as Litchi chinensis, are a tropical fruit native to China but now grown and consumed around the world. Lychees have a bumpy pinkish-red peel and sweet, translucent white flesh surrounding a seed. They offer several health benefits, providing vitamin C, potassium, copper, and polyphenols that act as antioxidants. However, lychees also contain naturally occurring sugars – about 16 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams of fruit. For this reason, diabetics need to be mindful of portion size and frequency when incorporating lychees into their diet.
There are a few key considerations when assessing whether lychees are a suitable occasional treat for those with diabetes:
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale of 1-100 that ranks carbohydrate-containing foods by how much they raise blood sugar. Low GI foods (under 55) are absorbed more slowly and create a more gradual rise, while high GI foods (over 70) lead to more rapid spikes in blood glucose. Lychees have a moderate GI of 60. This means they can raise blood sugar, particularly when eaten in large quantities, but not to the same extent as high GI foods.
Lychees contain about 16 grams of carbohydrates per 100 gram serving. This comes primarily from sugars, including sucrose, fructose and glucose. For comparison, that’s a slightly lower carb content than grapes or bananas. The total carb amount remains important for diabetics to track in each serving for blood sugar management. However, it is a medium carb fruit option that can likely be incorporated in moderation by most individuals with diabetes.
Lychees contain approximately 1.3 grams of fiber per 100 gram serving. While not extremely high in fiber, this can help mitigate blood sugar response versus the same amount of lychees without fiber. Fiber slows digestion, resulting in a more gradual absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
Glycemic load accounts for both the GI and carb content of a food. Lychees have a medium GL of 10 per 100 gram serving. This means when factoring in both the GI and grams of carbs, lychees should have a moderately low effect on blood glucose levels. Foods with a high GL of 20 or more spur the most dramatic spikes.
Now that we’ve covered the key health metrics related to lychees and diabetes, let’s analyze the research on how lychees specifically impact blood sugar.
Studies on Lychees and Diabetes
Several studies have looked at the direct effects of consuming lychees for individuals with diabetes:
A small study in 2006 looked at the impacts of canned lychee fruit on postprandial blood glucose and insulin responses in 10 healthy subjects and 10 subjects with type 2 diabetes. The subjects consumed a meal accompanied by either 150 grams of lychees, applesauce, or gelatin as dessert. Researchers found:
- In healthy subjects, the postprandial blood glucose response was similar for lychees, applesauce and gelatin.
- In the diabetic subjects, lychees and applesauce showed similarly lower glucose responses compared to gelatin.
- Insulin responses were also lower after eating lychees and applesauce versus gelatin for the diabetic group.
Overall, this indicates lychees can be a lower glycemic option than gelatin or other high sugar desserts for those with diabetes. Substituting lychees for higher GI desserts can modestly reduce post-meal blood glucose spikes.
A study in 2011 examined how lychees impacted glucose tolerance in a group of 20 subjects with type 2 diabetes. The participants consumed either 500 mL of lychee pulp puree or tomato juice, followed by an oral glucose tolerance test. They also tested the effects of just purified polyphenols from lychees. The researchers concluded:
- Consuming lychee pulp improved glucose tolerance in the diabetic subjects compared to tomato juice.
- The beneficial effects were similar drinking just lychee polyphenol extract.
- The polyphenols appeared key to slowing carbohydrate digestion and absorption.
This demonstrates that lychees and lychee polyphenols may help moderate postprandial blood glucose after a meal containing carbohydrates for those with diabetes. The fiber and polyphenols help mitigate the impact and absorption rate of sugars.
A 2008 study looked at the interaction between fibre-rich fractions of lychee pulp and cornstarch. 20 subjects consumed 4 test products:
- 50 g available carbohydrate from cornstarch
- 33 g available carbohydrate from cornstarch + 17 g fiber from lychee
- 25 g available carbohydrate from cornstarch + 25 g fiber from lychee
- 17 g available carbohydrate from cornstarch + 33 g fiber from lychee
- Increasing the fiber-rich lychee pulp resulted in significantly lower blood glucose and insulin responses in a dose-dependent fashion.
- 17 g fiber from lychees reduced the glycemic response of cornstarch by 50%.
- 25 g fiber from lychees reduced it by 75%.
- The researchers credited viscosity and gel formation between the lychee fiber and cornstarch for slowing digestion and absorption.
This further indicates that pairing lychees with other carb-containing foods can help lower the speed of glucose absorption and mitigate spikes in blood sugar.
Potential Benefits of Lychees for Diabetes
In addition to their moderately low GI and GL values, lychees may offer other benefits for people with diabetes:
Rich in Antioxidants
Lychees contain polyphenols and antioxidants like oligonol, procyanidins, cyanidin-3-glucoside, malvidin, and epicatechins. Studies show lychee antioxidants can help regulate oxidative stress and inflammation, provide neuroprotection, and benefit vascular health – all of which are helpful in managing diabetes complications.
Support Heart Health
The antioxidants in lychees along with nutrients like potassium, fiber and vitamin C can help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and factors for heart disease – a common complication in diabetes. The polyphenols in lychees specifically appear beneficial for cardiovascular protection.
May Help Manage Blood Sugar
In addition to their moderately low GI, some early research indicates lychees may help inhibit alpha-glucosidase enzymes related to diabetes complications and improve glucose tolerance in animal models. Human trials are still needed.
Support Weight Loss
Lychees are low in calories at about 66 per 100 grams. Their water and fiber content can help promote fullness. This makes them a good snack option for managing or losing weight, which helps control diabetes.
Are Lychees Safe for All Diabetics?
Most diabetics can likely tolerate lychees in moderation as part of a healthy diet. However, consuming lychees may be riskier for certain diabetic populations prone to spikes or with complicating disorders:
Type 1 Diabetes
Those with type 1 diabetes are at greater risk of blood sugar spikes from lychees due to lack of insulin production. Careful glucose monitoring and insulin adjustments are important after eating lychees.
People with hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition also called brittle diabetes, are also prone to more severe highs and lows from any carbohydrate intake. Lychees and other fruits may need to be restricted or carefully dosed.
Gastroparesis is a common complication in diabetics where delayed emptying of the stomach causes unpredictable blood sugar spikes. If lychees are tolerated, consuming small portions at a time can help minimize blood glucose fluctuation.
Impaired Kidney Function
Those with diabetic nephropathy leading to impaired kidney function have difficulty regulating electrolytes like potassium. Large amounts of high potassium fruits like lychees may need to be limited.
Overall, most people with well-managed diabetes should be able to incorporate fresh lychees into their diet in moderation without problems. Those with type 1 diabetes or common diabetic complications may need more caution and guidance from their healthcare provider.
Tips for Incorporating Lychees Into a Diabetes Diet
Here are some tips for safely enjoying lychees with diabetes:
Stick to half a cup or 1⁄2 medium fruit servings. Larger portions will cause more significant increases in blood sugar levels.
Pair with Low GI Foods
Eat lychees alongside non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, beans or low glycemic grains like oatmeal to help moderate absorption.
Avoid Added Sugars
Select plain fresh or frozen lychees rather than syrup-packed canned versions to limit excess sugars.
Monitor Glucose Carefully
Test blood sugar levels about 1-2 hours after eating lychees to ensure levels remain in a healthy range.
Bolus Insulin As Needed
Administer quick-acting insulin to match the carb content of lychees based on your insulin to carbohydrate ratio prescribed by your doctor.
Eat With Other Low GI Fruits
Pair lychees in a fruit salad with berries, stone fruits, citrus fruits and apples to lower the overall glycemic impact.
Limit Juice Consumption
Enjoy whole lychees or add a few slices to smoothies rather than drinking lychee juice to retain fiber that helps control blood sugar response.
Sample Diabetic Lychee Recipes
Here are a few tasty and diabetes-friendly recipe ideas for enjoying lychees:
Lychee Salad with Mint and Basil
- 2 cups lychees, peeled and diced
- 1 cup strawberries, sliced
- 1 kiwi, peeled and sliced
- 1⁄4 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1⁄4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp lime zest
- 1⁄4 cup unsalted pistachios
- In a bowl, combine diced lychees, strawberries, kiwi, mint and basil.
- Whisk together lime juice and lime zest. Pour over fruit.
- Top salad with crushed unsalted pistachios before serving.
Chicken Stir Fry with Lychees
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- 1 cup snow peas
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 cup lychees, peeled and halved
- 1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1⁄4 cup unsalted cashews
- 3 cups cauliflower rice
- In a large skillet or wok, heat avocado oil over medium-high heat.
- Add chicken and stir fry until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
- Add snow peas, bell pepper, lychees, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Cook 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in cashews and cauliflower rice until heated through, about 2 more minutes.
- Serve stir fry warm or chilled over cauliflower rice.
No Sugar Added Lychee Sorbet
- 2 cups frozen lychees
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Pinch of stevia or monkfruit sweetener (optional)
- Blend frozen lychees, coconut milk, vanilla and sweetener (if using) in a high speed blender until smooth and creamy.
- Serve sorbet immediately as soft serve or freeze 1-2 hours for firmer consistency.
The Bottom Line
Lychees can be part of a healthy diet for most people with diabetes when consumed in moderation. The fruit has a moderately low GI and GL, and an array of nutrition. Research shows polyphenols in lychees can slow carbohydrate absorption and may provide other beneficial effects on diabetes management. However, portion control remains key due to the natural sugars lychees contain. Most diabetics can safely enjoy 1⁄2 cup fresh lychees or 1⁄2 medium fruit a few times per week as part of a balanced diet, paired with low GI foods. Those with type 1 diabetes or common diabetes complications like gastroparesis may need more caution. Overall, incorporating fresh lychees into the diet with proper care and monitoring can allow diabetics to reap the antioxidant benefits of the fruit without detriment to blood sugar control.