Dessert and Diabetes

Historically, people with diabetes were told to avoid sugary foods because eating sugar caused spikes in blood glucose. Now we know that it’s carbohydrates (and sugar is just one type of carbohydrate) that causes blood glucose levels to rise. Despite what you may have heard, eating sugary foods doesn’t cause diabetes—but health experts still recommend limiting sugary foods and carbohydrates because of their effects on blood glucose, and because they generally are not as nutritious as many other foods. Desserts certainly fall into this category. Plus, most desserts contain lots of carbohydrates in a very small serving. The bottom line: you can still have a small portion of your favorite dessert on occasion but there are other ways you can satisfy that sweet tooth.

Learn to Improvise

There are lots of ways you can tweak favorite recipes to lower the amount of sugar in them. For instance, using an artificial sweetener allows you to use half the amount of sugar a recipe calls for. You can also try increasing spices such as vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and substituting sugary ingredients with applesauce or pureed prunes (just remember that if you use fruit to sweeten, there are still carbohydrates that must be counted).

Alternative Names for Sugar on Food Labels

If only avoiding sugar was as easy as looking for the word on a food label. But sugar comes in countless forms and is known by many names. In fact, there are more than 20 different types of sugar. Besides the obvious “granulated sugar” you might see any of these types of sugar on a list of ingredients:

  • sorbitol
  • maltitol
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • dextrose
  • lactose
  • turbinado
  • levulose
  • maltose
  • xylitol

Serving Sizes

Your healthcare provider has probably given you a range of carbohydrates that you can have at each meal, or every day. For many people with diabetes, this range is between 45 and 60 grams per meal. This means that you must read food labels carefully, and pay attention to portion sizes. Let’s use an Original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie as an example. One cookie has 12.6 grams of carbohydrates. For comparison’s sake, there are 57.5 grams of carbohydrates in a slice of homemade apple pie and 12 grams of carbohydrates in a piece of homemade cheesecake.

Satisfy to Sweet Tooth

In general, it’s best to avoid packaged desserts—e.g. cookies and doughnuts—because they tend to be high in carbohydrates and also contain hydrogenated fats and high-fructose corn syrup. Also on the list of no-no’s if you have diabetes: pound cake, fruit pies and cake, and ice cream, because they are also sugar-rich. In general, desserts that you can make with sugar substitutes—think mousse or parfait made with sugar-free pudding or a fruit tart—are healthier choices.