Is halva good for diabetics?

Halva is a sweet confection made from sugar or honey, flour, and nuts or seeds. It originates from the Middle East and is popular in many countries around the world. But is this treat a wise choice for people with diabetes? Let’s take a closer look at halva’s nutritional profile and how it may affect blood sugar levels.

What is halva?

Halva has a soft, dense texture something like fudge or nut butter. Traditional versions are made from sesame seeds or sesame paste (tahini) combined with sugar or honey. However, halva can also be made with other nuts, seeds, or flour such as sunflower seeds, pistachios, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chickpea flour, or wheat flour.

The basic ingredients in halva are:

  • Sugar or honey – for sweetness
  • Sesame seeds, tahini, or other nuts/seeds – for flavor and texture
  • Flour – acts as a binder

Spices like cinnamon or cardamom are sometimes added, as well as dried fruit, chocolate, or vanilla. The textures of halva range from crumbly and dry to dense and fudgy depending on the ingredients used.

Nutritional profile of halva

The nutrition content of halva can vary greatly depending on the specific ingredients used. However, most versions are high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates:

  • Calories – Around 400-500 calories per 100g serving
  • Fat – 20-40g total fat per 100g, mostly from nuts or seeds
  • Carbs – 30-60g total carbs per 100g, primarily from added sugar
  • Protein – 5-15g protein per 100g

Halva provides a nutritious dose of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium from the nuts and seeds. It also contains antioxidants and phytosterols that may offer some health benefits. However, the high amounts of sugar and calories make it more of an occasional treat than a daily snack for diabetics.

Effect of halva on blood sugar

For people with diabetes, the biggest concern with halva is its potential to spike blood sugar levels. There are a few reasons why halva may have a significant effect on blood sugar:

  • High glycemic index – Most halva is made with refined white sugar or honey, both of which have a very high glycemic index. This means they are absorbed quickly and cause rapid rises in blood glucose.
  • High carb content – A 2-ounce serving of halva may contain around 30-60 grams of digestible carbs, almost all from sugar. This is a very large amount of carbs for a single serving.
  • High calorie density – Halva is extremely energy dense, packing nearly 500 calories into a 2-ounce piece. Eating large amounts can lead to big spikes in blood sugar.

For these reasons, halva is considered a very high glycemic food not well suited for diabetics attempting to control their blood sugar. Even small portions are likely to cause significant spikes when eaten on their own.

Glycemic index of common halva varieties

Different types of halva can have slightly varied glycemic indexes depending on their exact ingredients. But most types have a very high GI of 70 or above:

Halva Type Estimated GI
Sesame halva 71
Sunflower seed halva 77
Pistachio halva 75
Almond halva 70

Any GI over 70 is considered high. Foods with a high GI cause quick spikes in blood sugar compared to foods with a low GI.

Effect on blood sugar levels

Studies looking specifically at halva are limited. But research on other high GI foods can give us a picture of halva’s glycemic impact.

In one study, people with type 2 diabetes ate 50 grams of carbohydrates worth of either watermelon (GI 72) or wheat bread (GI 71). Blood glucose was monitored for 2 hours after eating. The results:

  • Watermelon increased blood sugar by 72% in the first hour.
  • Bread increased blood sugar by 141% in the first hour.

Based on its similarly high GI, halva would be expected to cause similar rapid blood sugar spikes. For people with diabetes trying to control blood sugar, that type of spike is problematic and can be risky.

In another study, obese people with insulin resistance ate high GI foods (average GI 84). Just a single high GI meal caused insulin spikes of 100%-150% and significantly increased oxidative stress and inflammation.

For diabetics, frequent blood sugar spikes from high GI foods can be damaging over time and increase the risk of complications. Thus dietary guidelines for diabetics recommend limiting high GI foods like halva.

Better snack options for diabetics

So what should people with diabetes choose instead of halva for a sweet treat? Here are some healthier snack options:

  • Greek yogurt – High in protein, low in carbs/sugar. Add fresh fruit forsweetness.
  • Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, pecans. Have healthy fats and won’t spike blood sugar.
  • Apples with peanut butter – Provides fiber, fat, and protein to blunt blood sugar response.
  • Carrots with hummus – Veggies offer fiber and hummus has proteinand healthy fats.
  • Chia seed pudding – Made with chia seeds, milk, and vanilla. Low GIand full of nutrients.

The key is to choose snacks that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. This helps slow digestion and prevents blood sugar spikes.

Precautions for diabetics eating halva

Halva is not recommended as a regular snack for diabetics. However, it can occasionally be incorporated into the diet in moderation. Here are some tips for diabetics wanting to eat halva more safely:

  • Stick to a very small serving size, such as 1 ounce or less.
  • Pair halva with other foods like nuts or yogurt to help slow absorption.
  • Avoid eating halva on an empty stomach to prevent blood sugar crashes.
  • Save halva for occasionally rather than making it a daily habit.
  • Test blood sugar before and 2 hours after eating to see your individual response.
  • Take extra insulin around the time of consumption to cover the spike.

It’s also best to opt for a halva made with a lower GI flour like chickpea or pumpkin flour rather than white wheat flour. And limit high GI toppings like honey.

The bottom line

Halva is a beloved treat around the world, but its high glycemic index and load make it a poor choice for diabetics. The combination of refined carbs and sugar in halva can cause rapid spikes in blood glucose that are damaging over time. There are better snack options that provide more nutrition and won’t destabilize blood sugar levels.

Once in a while, a small amount of halva may be tolerated if paired with proteins and fiber. But it should not become a daily habit. Diabetics can still find ways to enjoy traditional sweets like halva safely in moderation by controlling portions and knowing how to balance it in their diet.

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