If you have diabetes, managing blood sugar levels is critical, but careful planning and some creative swapping can allow you to enjoy the sweetest of treats. In proper portions, of course.
Diabetes or not, health experts recommend reining in added sugars (not the natural type found in milk and fruit). That’s because they contribute excess calories without providing nutrients, which can lead to unwanted weight gain, poor heart health, and elevated blood sugar levels. The American Heart Association advises women to limit added sugars to six teaspoons daily and men to cap their intake at nine teaspoons per day.
Follow these strategies for including desserts in your diabetes management plan:
Count those carbs. “Total carbohydrate is the focus for people with diabetes, not just grams of sugar,” says Toby Smithson, M.S., R.D.N., author of “Diabetes Meal Planning” and “Nutrition for Dummies” and a person with diabetes. Sugar on a food label is only part of the total carbohydrate, and it’s important to count all of the carbohydrate in a food. Though it’s highly individualized, 45-60 grams of total carbohydrate per meal is fairly common.
Key in on portion. Read the serving size and the total amount of carbohydrate per serving on food labels. If your favorite treat is especially high in carbohydrates, consider eating a smaller portion than that listed on the food label.
Turn to sugar substitutes. Sugar substitutes (or non-nutritive sweeteners), such as aspartame, sucralose or stevia, are considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration, and the American Diabetes Association reports that using them is an acceptable strategy to reduce your overall calorie and carbohydrate intake.
Watch out for “low-sugar” desserts. Many special “diabetes” treats, which can be high in calories, refined grains and saturated fats, are no better for you than “regular” desserts.
Make it fit. Swap other carbohydrate-containing foods from your meal, like milk, yogurt, bread, rice, cereal and fruit, for dessert. “If it’s a special occasion, I may save up to 30 grams of carbohydrate for dessert,” says Smithson.
Keep it real. Swapping healthful carbohydrates, such as whole grains and fruit, too often puts you at risk for missing out on critical nutrients found in whole foods.
Don’t just add it. While it may be tempting to simply add a dessert now and then to your usual meal plan, the result is usually elevated blood sugar levels.
Strategies for trimming sugar
— Simply reduce the amount of sugar by about one-third in most recipes.
— Substitute a non-nutritive sweetener for some or all of the sugar in the recipe.
— Make naturally sweet fruit the focus of your dessert. Adhere to proper portion control for your specific daily meal planning.
— Enhance flavors with other ingredients, such as orange zest, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger or strong coffee (which brings out the chocolate flavor in brownies and cakes).
And always consult your health care provider before changing your specific dietary needs.
Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N.