Many people think a diagnosis of diabetes means that desserts are off limits. But did you know that if you are careful with your meal planning, you can enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert from time to time and still keep your diabetes under control?
Our understanding of diet and blood sugar has changed
Fortunately, doctors now know a lot more about the connection between diet and blood sugar. Previously it was thought that people with diabetes needed to remove sweets from their diet and replace them with complex carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables). But recent studies have shown that it’s the total daily carbohydrate count that affects blood sugar levels more so than the type of carbohydrate eaten. That’s why eating a consistent amount of carbohydrates at each meal is recommended to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Why it’s OK to have dessert sometimes
With this in mind, you can substitute an occasional dessert for another carbohydrate-containing food in your meal without causing problems with your diabetes management. For example, if you’d like to have a brownie with your lunch, you need to substitute the brownie for another carbohydrate-containing food. If you are having a chicken burrito, consider not adding rice to the burrito or having a low-carbohydrate tortilla and eating the brownie for the same total carbohydrate count.
Don’t overdo it!
Most sweets have a large amount of carbohydrate per serving, so they should be eaten in moderation and not at every meal. You need to continue focusing your daily meal plan on more nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish, and lean meats. And it’s still important to work with your registered dietitian or diabetes care team to figure out how many grams of carbohydrate you can eat throughout the day and how to substitute sugar for other carbohydrate-containing foods.
Tips for eating dessert when you have diabetes:
- Eat only a small portion of dessert: Split dessert with a friend.
- Remove temptation: If you tend to overeat on sweets, don’t buy them or keep them in your home where you might be tempted.
- Find other ways to satisfy sweet cravings: Have a piece of fresh fruit or fruit salad, a portion-controlled or real fruit frozen ice pop, or sugar-free hot chocolate.
- Make your own sugar-free or low-carb desserts and snacks on occasion: You can have control over the ingredients, modify recipes to reduce the sugar content, and make bite-sized portions to avoid too much carbohydrate.
- Access carbohydrate info: Request nutrition information at restaurants or use a smartphone app or Website that can calculate your total-carbohydrate counts at meals when you might want to have dessert.
- Be label smart: Be careful with products labeled as “sugar-free,” “no sugar added,” or “reduced sugar” —they do not necessarily have a reduced number of calories and may still contain carbohydrates.
- Shift your focus at special occasions and holidays. Focus on the company and the event—instead of the food—at holidays, family gatherings, and when dining out.
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regimen.
Diabetes and Nutrition, American Academy of Family Physicians:
Diabetes Nutrition: Including Sweets in Your Meal Plan, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research:
Patient Information: Type 2 diabetes and diet (Beyond the Basics), UpToDate®:
Sugar and Desserts, American Diabetes Association:
The Truth About the So-Called “Diabetes Diet,” Joslin Diabetes Center: