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Can People With Diabetes Eat Sugar?

written by: Sarah Mitchell • edited by: lrohner • updated: 4/2/2011

People with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes must follow their personalized diet plans, through menu planning, restricting the amount of daily carbohydrates. Can people with diabetes eat sugar or does the diabetic diet eradicate sugar? Are there any diabetic recipes that allow the use of sugar?

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    Diabetic Foods: Can People with Diabetes Eat Sugar?

    Many assume that sugar causes diabetes; however, neither type 1 nor type 2 diabetes is caused by sugar. Scientists have concluded that the body’s immune system attacks the islet cells within the pancreas, causing type 1 diabetes.[1] Anecdotal evidence suggests that genetics or virus exposure may be responsible. Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is often a complication of being overweight or obese.[2]

    Since sugar does not cause diabetes, may diabetics eat sweets? While eating sugar does significantly raise blood glucose levels, as do most simple carbohydrates, like white bread, research suggests that blood sugars are primarily affected by the total amount of carbohydrates rather than any particular carb type, indicates the American Diabetes Association (ADA).[3] With this insight, diabetics are allowed to incorporate sugar into their diet.

    Individuals with diabetes must manage their blood sugar levels through a diabetic diet, exercise, antidiabetic medication(s) and/or insulin injections. In addition to diabetes symptoms, uncontrolled diabetes can eventually wreak havoc on the body, including diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), ketoacidosis, nephropathy (kidney damage), cataracts, glaucoma, retinopathy, limb amputation, osteoporosis, hearing impairment, and heart, blood vessel and Alzheimer’s disease.

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    Diabetes: Healthy Eating Plan, Menu Planning and Carbohydrates

    A specialized diabetic healthy eating plan, based on specialized menu plannining, created by a registered dietitian, can assist with carbohydrate allocation based on the patient’s weight and other factors; three daily meals and snacks are typically recommended for stable blood sugar levels, with the maximum amount of carbohydrate choices designated at each mealtime.

    An example of a diabetic meal plan is as follows:[4]

    Breakfast: 30-45 total carbohydrate grams

    Morning snack: 7.5-15 total carbohydrate grams

    Lunch: 30-45 total carbohydrate grams

    Afternoon snack: 15-22.5 total carbohydrate grams

    Dinner: 45-60 total carbohydrate grams

    Evening snack: 15-22.5 total carbohydrate grams

    Diabetics can typically eat "normal" foods, and do not necessarily need to seek out specially packaged "diabetic foods." Looking at total carbohydrates on a nutrition facts label, found on most foods, will assist with calculating carb grams. It is important to note that small amounts of high sugar-containing foods add up quickly in terms of allowable carbohydrates per meal, based on an individual’s diabetic diet plan. Hence, diabetics should not consume too much sugar in their meals, replacing high-nutrient low carb-containing foods.

    For example, a 2-inch square of brownie or cake counts as 30 to 35 grams, surpassing any of the above snack carb limits. Splitting the dessert in half is an option to satisfy the afternoon or evening sweet tooth. Such empty calories and lack of substance will, more than likely, leave the individual hungry.

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    Diabetic Recipes: Desserts for Type 2 Diabetes

    Alternatives to satisfying cravings, while reducing sugar and caloric intake, include options such as fruit, frozen yogurt, sugar-free jello and ice cream. Of note, many healthier choices also contain carbohydrates and are not “free carbs,” so be aware of this when assessing the day's diabetes diet. The Big Book of Diabetic Desserts, published by the ADA and authored by Jackie Mills, presents over 150 tasteful dessert recipes from pies to cookies to frozen delights, sure to satisfy any diabetic’s sweet tooth.

    Disclaimer: The information provided herein is for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for professional medical advice.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic website. “Type 1 Diabetes”, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-1-diabetes/DS00329/DSECTION=complications.[1]

    Mayo Clinic website. “Type 2 Diabetes”, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-2-diabetes/DS00585/DSECTION=complications.[2]

    American Diabetes Association website. “Sugar and Desserts”, http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/sweeteners-and-desserts.html.[3]

    International Diabetes Center. “My Food Plan” 4th ed., 2008.[4]

    Patient Resources

    ShopDiabetes.org. “The Big Book of Diabetic Desserts”, http://www.shopdiabetes.org/89-The-Big-Book-of-Diabetic-Desserts.aspx?utm_source=WWW&utm_medium=ContentPage&utm_content=FoodAndFitness_SweetnerDesserts&utm_campaign=BOOK.

    American Diabetes Association. "Food", http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/.