Everyone believes that people with diabetes cannot have any sugar and sadly they must live without dessert for the rest of their lives. Well, as a Registered Dietitian, I’m here to tell you that this is not true. People with diabetes can eat sugar, desserts, and even food that contains caloric sweeteners such as molasses, honey and maple syrup. Why? Because people with diabetes can eat foods that contain carbohydrates, whether those carbohydrates come from starchy foods like pasta or sugary foods such as candy. It is just a matter of setting up a meal plan that is balanced and incorporates desserts into your day. Read further and you will see how easy it can be when you have diabetes.
The idea that people with diabetes should avoid sugar is an old belief. We all know that diabetes is a condition that causes high blood sugar. We also know that sugary foods cause blood sugar levels to rise. Therefore, it makes sense that people with diabetes should avoid sugary foods in order to prevent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and keep their blood sugars under control. However, you will learn how just avoiding sugary foods is not the answer in terms of controlling blood sugar. Here’s why.
You might be surprised to hear that your blood sugar level is based on the total amount of carbohydrate you ate in the previous meal or an accumulation of what you consumed in a day. It is not determined only by the source of the carbohydrates eaten. There are two types of carbohydrates that elevate your blood sugar levels: sugar and starch. Both will elevate your blood glucose to a similar level. Candy is more concentrated in sugar as compared to pasta. So your serving of candy would be 1 oz. compared to a ½ cup serving of cooked pasta. They both are equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrate. Since candy is so concentrated in sugar it should not be eaten on an empty stomach or in between meals since it
will more easily spike your sugar level. So you can see that you can have one type of carbohydrate (starch) as well as the other carbohydrate (sugar). Again, the important caveat here is it is how you arrange the carbohydrates in your day. This is where help with a Registered Dietitian becomes very valuable.
Please still remember that desserts high in sugar can be incorporated into a diabetes meal plan but they are high in calories and have little to no nutritional value. So, it is possible to plan these foods into any diabetes meal plan, they are still food choices that should be considered “treats” and should be eaten in limited quantities. You must also realize that regardless of the type of sweetener you choose to consume. “Natural” sweeteners (honey, agave syrup, cane sugar, etc.) still contain carbohydrates that elevate your blood sugar level and should not be thought of as any healthier for people with diabetes than other sweeteners.
Here are ways for you to include dessert into your meal plan:
- Use some of your meal’s carbohydrate budget for dessert. If you understand carbohydrate counting you will see that you just have to allow a serving of carbohydrate for your dessert at the end of your meal. A typical carbohydrate allotment for one meal is 45 grams or 3 servings. If you would like to have a slice of apple pie with your meal, for example, incorporate the amount of carbohydrate in the slice of pie into your total carbohydrate budget for the meal. One slice of apple (1/8 of an 8-inch pie) contains roughly 23 grams of carbohydrate (1 ½ servings). Simply adjust your intake at meal time to account for your upcoming dessert. In this example, you’d have 22 grams of carbohydrates (1 ½ servings) remaining. You can now plan the rest of the carbohydrate foods to eat during your meal since you have already adjusted for dessert. Please make sure the rest of the carbos come
from high quality starches and veggies. Also,make sure to add at least 3 oz. of protein to the meal. So for example, you can have a 3 oz. hamburger on a
100% sandwich thin (Orowheat- 15 grams of carbs) and 1 serving of veggies
(1/2 cup cooked brocoli) and your delicious slice of apple pie. If you are not sure
how many carbohydrates are in a serving of your dessert please look at the
food label and see how many carbohydrates there are in a serving.
- Use low- and non-calorie sweeteners wisely. Some people with diabetes prefer to rely on artificial sweeteners as a way to cut down on carbohydrate intake. If you enjoy desserts, candies or recipes made with these non-caloric sweeteners, that’s fine. But don’t forget to account for the carbohydrates that may still be in the food you are eating. Packaged cookies with “no added sugars,” candies made with artificial sweeteners, or homemade cookies baked with stevia are NOT carbohydrate-free foods. Be sure to read labels and still account for the carbohydrates you are consuming, whether the foods contain sugar or not.
Also, be aware that sweetners such as sorbitiol and alcohol sugars in general can cause upset stomach and diarrhea.
- Step up your physical activity for the day. Because desserts add extra fat and calories as well as carbohydrates, consider incorporating some extra physical activity on, before, or after the days that you splurge on sweets. Exercising to burn more calories can help with weight management and blood sugar control.
- As always, continue to monitor your blood sugar levels, especially when consuming foods high in sugar. You may notice that some carbohydrate-containing foods increase your levels more than others–even when you eat the same grams of carbohydrates. If your levels are slightly higher, a Registered Dietitian can show you how to customize a plan for you.
Diabetes is one of my specialties as a registered dietitiain. Please feel free to call me with any questions.