Nutrition Articles

Eating with Diabetes: Desserts and Sweets

Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too?

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For optimal blood sugar control, use these sweet tips for sweet treats:
1. Budget your meal carbs. When the urge for a sweet treat hits, use some of your meal’s carbohydrate budget for a small dessert. This is the beauty of carbohydrate counting—the ability to use your carbohydrate allotment for any carbohydrate you choose. A typical carbohydrate allotment for one meal is usually around 45-60 grams (3-4 servings). If you would like to have a slice of pumpkin pie with your meal, for example, incorporate the amount of carbohydrate in the slice of pie into your total carbohydrate budget for the meal. One slice of pumpkin pie (1/8 of an 8-inch pie) contains roughly 23 grams of carbohydrate (1 ½ servings). Simply adjust your intake at meal time to account for your upcoming dessert. In this example, you'd still have 22-37 grams of carbohydrates (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 servings) remaining, which you can spend on more nutrient-rich, carbohydrate containing foods.

2. Snack attack. Most people with diabetes are able to enjoy 1-3 snacks throughout the day, spending 15 to 30 grams (1 to 2 servings) of carbohydrates on each snack. Instead of eating dessert with your meal, you could satisfy your sweet tooth during snack time by enjoying a dessert item that fits into your snacking budget. Just remember to eat it at least 2 hours after your meal.

3. Use low- and non-calorie sweeteners wisely. Some people with diabetes prefer to rely on artificial sweeteners as a way to cut down on carbohydrate intake. If you enjoy desserts, candies or recipes made with these non-caloric sweeteners, that's fine. But don't forget to account for the carbohydrates that may still be in the food you are eating. Packaged cookies with "no added sugars," candies made with artificial sweeteners, or homemade cookies baked with stevia are NOT carbohydrate-free foods. Be sure to read labels and still account for the carbohydrates you are consuming, whether the foods contain sugar or not. You can even use the free recipe calculator at SparkRecipes.com to find out exactly how many calories and carbohydrates are in your homemade treats!

4. Keep sweets away.  If you tend to overeat on sweets, don’t buy them in large amounts to store at home or at work. Instead, plan to have dessert only when away from home. Purchase a single-serving or split a larger dessert with a friend. Check out the nutrition facts of your sweet treat to stay on track with your carb counting plan.  

5. Step up your physical activity. Along with the carbohydrates, many desserts also add extra fat and calories as well. Consider incorporating some extra physical activity on, before, or after the days that you splurge on sweets. Exercising to burn more calories can help with weight management and blood sugar control.

6. Always monitor.  When consuming foods high in sugar, be diligent with monitoring your blood sugar level throughout the day. You may notice that some carbohydrate-containing foods increase your levels more than others--even when you eat the same grams of carbohydrates. If your levels are slightly higher, work with your health professional or Certified Diabetes Educator to obtain an individualized plan. Your educator will be able to tweak your plan and provide additional food suggestions to meet your specific needs for optimal blood sugar control.

7.  You’re Not Alone.  Everyone needs to limit sugar intake, not just folks with diabetes.  In fact, cutting back on the sweet stuff is one of the main messages in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new sugar guideline encourages everyone to develop a healthy eating pattern that limits added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day.
The following chart shows the average carbohydrate-count and proper serving size for some common sweets and desserts. Use it as a reference when selecting sweets, but always refer to package nutritional labels whenever possible for best accuracy. Remember, having diabetes does not mean you will never have birthday cake or pumpkin pie again. With a little planning, you can have a small serving of your favorite dessert once in a while and still manage your diabetes.
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About The Author

Amy L. Poetker Amy L. Poetker
Amy Poetker is a licensed and registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's degree in dietetics. Amy, who has spent most of her career working in diabetes education, is dedicated to the treatment of that disease and the prevention of related complications. See all of Amy's articles.

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