In this article, we will discuss the question of can diabetics eat sugar. This question jumped to the forefront of my mind when our young grandson was initially diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
As the matriarch of our family, I usually plan family gatherings for holidays, birthdays, and sometimes just for fun. That usually includes planning the food that will be enjoyed by all of us.
So now that diabetes is a part of our lives do I need to eliminate the pies, cakes, cookies, and squares that we all enjoy?
Or do I need to spend countless hours trying to find recipes that use sugar substitutes?
Is eating a dessert going to make our grandson sicker?
How can he feel a part of the birthday celebrations if he can’t have the cake?
If I was feeling this overwhelmed at the time of Alex’s diagnosis, I can’t even imagine what my daughter and son-in-law must have been feeling through it all.
I mean I only have Alex here for visits or the occasional sleepover but they are dealing with this every day, 24-7, no time off, ever.
Diabetes and all its concerns are a never-ending part of their life.
Until Alex is old enough to manage his diabetes it is their sole responsibility as his parents and even when he is old enough I am sure they will still worry whether he will be taking care of it properly.
He just started back to school after COVID which is a big concern for all of us because diabetics are immuno-compromised which means they are at increased risk of complications or death if they were to get COVID.
If that isn’t enough to worry about, back to school always comes with the want to attend school mates’ birthday parties. That is a natural and fun part of being a kid.
Those birthday parties come with sugary cake and ice-cream as well as treat bags that may contain candy.
And of course, kids love dressing up and heading out trick-or-treating for Halloween.
So what do we do about Alex?
Let him go?
Don’t let him go? That doesn’t seem right.
What if he eats the sugary treats?
In all honesty, we are now 15 months into this diabetic journey and have discovered it isn’t that bad.
Oh sure there are the endless finger pokes and insulin injections but aside from that we only had to make a few minor tweaks to accommodate Alex’s diabetes and life resumed pretty much as before diagnosis.
There is the odd day that he needs to delay having that snack for a while because his sugars are too high. Other times it seems we are forcing him to eat a sugary snack because he is low.
Alex is such a trooper, he just takes it all, he never complains. I find this amazing because he is only 5-years-old.
This journey with Alex has taught us so much.
Let’s just get right into everything we have learned.
Does sugar cause diabetes?
It is easy to fall into the misconception that because diabetes is a disease in which blood sugars are too high, that eating too much sugar caused diabetes.
This is certainly not the case.
Our pancreas produces insulin in response to the food we eat. Our bodies use that insulin to allow the sugars from our food to enter the cells where it can be used for fuel.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and kills those insulin-producing cells, meaning we can no longer produce enough or any insulin. Without insulin, our body can’t get the fuel it needs. So you see no amount of sugar in your diet has caused you to have diabetes.
In type 2 diabetes eating sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes. However, eating sugar can cause you to gain weight because sugary foods have a higher calorie count and therefore we eat more calories than we need. We do know that being overweight raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes your body produces enough insulin, it just can’t use that insulin properly.
So to answer the question does sugar cause diabetes, the answer is no, sugar does not directly cause diabetes.
Should sugar be eliminated?
With diabetes, blood sugar levels are constantly changing. Sometimes you will be high and sometimes you will be low.
Eliminating sugar won’t change this.
There are a lot of foods that naturally contain varying amounts of sugars such as fruits and vegetables.
By following a healthy diet as set forth by your diabetes care team you will help stabilize those blood sugars. But there will still be times you may need a sugary snack to treat a hypo (low blood sugars).
When you eat healthily, you will limit the amounts of cakes, cookies, and sodas you consume.
We don’t need to eliminate sugar from our diet, just be fully conscious of the amount of sugar being consumed and try to reduce it to healthier more sustainable amounts to help minimize blood sugar spikes.
We may not realize that some ‘healthy’ foods contain hidden sugars. We need to be aware of these as they will affect our blood sugar levels.
Watch for hidden sugars
So what are hidden sugars?
Well, they are the sugars in the foods we didn’t know had sugar. That would be things like:
- baked beans
- pasta sauces
- tomato ketchup
- flavored yogurts
- ready meals
- fruit juices
We tend to think that if we don’t see the word sugar on a label then it is sugar-free. However, there are several other words to watch out for on labels:
- glucose syrup
- hydrolyzed starch
- corn and maze syrup
Whenever you see any of these words on a label you can be sure sugar has been added.
It is also important to pay attention to serving size. The hidden sugars can add up.
Give up favorite foods?
There is no reason to give up your favorite foods.
You could try changing the way they are prepared to make them healthier. For example, try baking it instead of deep-frying it.
Maybe change the side dishes, have a sweet potato instead of a potato.
Maybe have a smaller serving of a favorite food.
Don’t use favorite foods as a reward when you do stick to your meal plan. Use something other than food to reward healthy eating.
When eating desserts consider this
Desserts are a wonderful end to a great meal. In our household, dessert is something reserved for Sunday dinner or a special occasion, like a birthday or holiday.
Again there are several options here to help make managing your blood glucose levels a little easier.
Try using low-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar. The American Diabetes Association approves of these options:
- Saccharin (Sweet’N’Low, Sweet Twin, Sugar Twin)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Stevia/Rebaudioside A (SweetLeaf, Sun Crystals, Steviva, Truvia, Pure Via)
It is wise to ask your dietitian which ones work best for sweetening beverages, baking, or cooking.
I use Splenda and powdered Steviva when baking for Alex.
Both have a white sugar substitute and a brown sugar substitute and it works well in a one-to-one substitution in recipes.
There are other delicious dessert option to try:
- granola (unsweetened) with fresh fruit or berries
- graham crackers with nut butter
- angel food cake
- sugar-free gelatin made with fruit and topped with sugar-free whipped topping
- sugar-free pudding with sugar-free whipped topping
- sugar-free hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon (one of Alex’s favorites)
I have found a ton of great ideas in my ‘Company’s Coming Diabetic Cooking‘ cookbook. I use it almost daily, even when Alex isn’t here. Yes, the recipes are that good.
I believe this article has answered the question can diabetics eat sugar.
We have determined that eating sugar does not directly cause diabetes.
Regardless of the type of diabetes, there will be highs and lows, often within the same day.
Managing diabetes is a full time, with no breaks.
You must always be conscious of everything you eat, including sugar.
Some foods contain hidden sugars.
There are plenty of alternatives that we can use to reduce or minimize the amount of sugar we consume.
Reducing our sugar intake is part of healthy eating whether a person is diabetic or not.
I have given several suggestions of healthier dessert options.
What tips you have for reducing sugar intake?
Do you have favorite low-sugar dessert recipes?
Share your ideas and tips in the comment section below and remember to check out the Company’s Coming Diabetic Cooking cookbook.