Can I eat sugar if I have diabetes?

Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics
The best way to include some sugar in your diet if to "budget" for it in your daily carbohydrate allowance. If you are on an 1800 calorie diabetic diet, you probably consume around 14 carbohydrate exchanges throughout the day. If you'd like to have a dessert one day with real sugar (not an artificial sweetener), decide what meal you'd like to have it with (i.e. lunch or dinner), and the type of dessert you'd like to have. Then, take a look at the diabetic exchange list (the American Diabetes Association has a great booklet) to see what the serving size is. For example, 1/2 cup of frozen yogurt, 1 Tbsp of honey, or 3 hard candies are all equal to 1 carb exchange. 2 small chocolate chip cookies are equal to 1 carb plus 2 fat exchanges. By calculating the sugar into your diet plan for the day ahead of time, you can make sure to get your treat.

Sugar has long had a bad reputation, especially among people with diabetes. People used to think that eating sugar would cause blood glucose levels to rise much more rapidly than other types of carbohydrates, such as bread or potatoes. So although bread and potatoes were okay to eat, pure sugar or sugar-laden treats were considered taboo. Well, it turns out that the total amount of carbohydrates and its combination with other nutrients, such as fat, are much more important.

Foods that contain sugar can be part of your diabetes plan. You’ll just need to account for the calories and carbohydrates. Keep in mind, sugar has little nutritional value, so filling up on sugars won’t allow you to eat as much as the nutrient-rich carbohydrates.

Your dietitian can help you learn how to count sugar as part of your carbohydrate allotment in your meal plan. For example, if you plan on having a small piece of cake for dessert, you might want to skip the rolls you normally have at dinner. Your dietitian or health care provider can also help you decide whether you need to adjust your medication dose to deal with the extra carbohydrates.

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

You can have sugar if you have diabetes. Foods contain a combination of 3 macronutrients fat, carbohydrate and protein of which all are eventually broken down into glucose to affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrate or sugar in food affects blood glucose directly and must be monitored in your diet. Strive for healthy blood glucose levels by including healthy fats like olive oil, protein such as lean meat and carefully planned small amounts of complex carbohydrate found in nutrient dense legumes, beans, soy or dairy, whole grains, and fruits at meals and snacks. Simple carbohydrates are sugar, sweets and sweetened beverages which are empty calories affecting your blood glucose, but providing few nutrients. Sugar can be accommodated in a meal plan on occasion when carefully planned. Eat unlimited non-starchy vegetables with few carbohydrates. See a Registered Dietitian to plan nutrient and carbohydrate content of meals that are individual to your needs and lifestyle to help diabetes and promote healthy weight maintenance.

Nilima Desai
Nutrition & Dietetics

Understanding what food raises the blood glucose levels is very important. There are three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fat) which provide us with calories. Of these three, foods with carbs will raise your blood glucose levels, whereas proteins and fats don't really have an impact. Foods that contain carbohydrates are: starches, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, and green peas, beans, legumes, lentils, milk/yogurt, fruits, sugar, and desserts.

Sugar does have a place in a healthy/balanced diabetic diet as long as it is consumed in limited amounts because it provides "empty calories" and raises blood glucose levels. A registered dietitian can help you understand portion control, counting carbohydrates, and incorporating small amounts of sugar in your meal plan.

Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics
When you have diabetes, it is crucial to know that carbohydrates (nutrient found in milk/yogurt, starches, fruits, and sweets/sugars) will have the strongest impact on your blood sugar level. Sugar can be a part of your diet when you have diabetes but only in limited amounts. For more information, please visit a Registered dietititian. To find one log in:
Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics
Some sugar is allowed if you put it into a healthy meal plan! A registered dietitian can help you determine which foods fit, and how to make them fit in the best way possible to control your blood sugar levels. I would suggest going to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, and look for a registered dietitian in your area that can help you find ways to add your favorite foods into your meal plan. A certified diabetes educator can really help support you as well. Good luck!
Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics

Believe it or not, YES. But you have to plan ahead. If you really want cake, look at the total number of grams of carbohydrate. Then cut back on the other carbs in the meal, such as from rice, bread, or pasta. Eating 1/3 cup rice, 1/3 cup beans, and one tortilla will raise the blood sugar the same amount as a piece of cake with 45 grams of carbohydrate. Enjoy, just don't do it too often. You need a balance of nutrients in your diet.

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Yes you can eat sugar but you have to limit the amount per serving. Learn the diabetic exchange lists. Know that 15 grams of carbs equal one serving. You need to limit the amount of carbs per day and if on insulin per meal. Generally you want to keep sweets to a minimum.
Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics
Diabetics can still consume minimal amounts of sugar if they are monitoring their total carbohydrate intake. However, some sugars are better than others. Empty calorie foods such as cookies, cakes, and ice cream should be limited as much as possible. Sugar that comes from fruit, milk, and yogurt would be a better choice for a Diabetic. It is important to remember that sugar is a carbohydrate and all type of carbohydrates will increase blood sugar levels. Choose carbohydrates that will provide the body with the most nutrition possible.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.