Can Type 1 Diabetics Eat Sweets? (Sugar Free or Occasionally?)


can type 1 diabetics eat sweets

A healthful diet for a diabetic should have limited saturated fat and contain moderate or low amounts of salt and sugar. As a diabetes educator, my patients frequently ask me if they have to give up sweets as a part of their diabetic meal plan.

People with type 1 diabetes can still enjoy sweets as a treat, as well as other different types of sugary foods, as long as they are eaten in moderation and as part of a healthful and well-balanced diet. 

Even though we love our sweets, it is best to save those sugary goodies for an occasional treat, and to make sure that you have them in smaller portions. As with any other food that a type 1 diabetic eats, it is important to be aware of how this food will affect blood glucose levels. 

Many diabetics are asked to keep a food diary or food journal. See my article on diabetic blood sugar charting for more information to help keep accountability and to help you recognize which foods you may be more reactive to. Many providers, including myself, will ask you to bring your journal back upon follow-up to help you trouble-shoot.

It is very important for the type 1 to read and understand nutrition labels on food packaging to make you aware of what is in your food. Many insulin users must “count their carbs” to accurately dose their insulin.

Are Sugar-free and Diet Candies Better for a Type 1 Diabetic?

Although many foods claim to be sugar-free or to have no added sugar, they still have carbohydrates, just a reduced amount. Often times, they do not taste as good, and they might be more expensive. 

Many people, including physicians, will debate whether you should use artificial sugars or “diet” candy. Sugar-free candies are frequently sweetened with something called a “sugar alcohol” (mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, maltitol, etc.), which are considered safe by the U.S. FDA. (Food and Drug Administration). See Sugar Alcohol fact sheet.

Sugar alcohols, unlike artificial sweeteners, are not used in the home. Rather, they are used to sweeten processed foods, such as “sugar-free candy.”

Although sugar alcohols are considered safe, they do have negative side effects for many people. 

What are the negative side effects of sugar alcohols?

  • Diarrhea (common)
  • Dehydration (due to diarrhea)
  • Excessive bowel activity
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Dry mouth
  • Fluid and electrolyte losses

Keep in mind that everyone’s body is a different body and each of us may react differently. I have had patients who can tolerate a large amount of sugar-free candy and experience nothing unusual. For others, one piece of sugar-free candy will keep them near the toilet all day.

Do Diabetics Include Sugar-free Candies in their Carb Counting?

Note that although sugar alcohols contain less carbohydrate, they are not carb-free. If a diabetic is consuming diet candies in bulk, you will still want to count those carbs to better calculate your dose of insulin.

A generic explanation is that about 3 regular hard candies contain 15 g carbohydrate (1 carb choice if you are counting carbs). If you are consuming diet hard candies, about 5 of them would equal 15 grams carb (1 carb choice).

There is absolutely no harm in eating sugary foods as a treat on occasion, as long as you follow your healthful and balanced diet. For some people with type 1 diabetes, sugar can be essential to treat a hypoglycemic episode when their blood glucose levels are too low. It is wise to carry a quick snack along with you, and carry glucose tablets.

MY DIETITIAN TIP: I recommend keeping glucose tablets on your person at all times. Patients insist that Lifesavers work just as well. The truth is, they do. The difference is that the glucose tabs will not be calling your name if you happen to get a craving for a little something. 

What Can a Diabetic Eat For Dessert?

Thankfully, having diabetes doesn’t mean that you have to give up dessert. Instead, you might just need to make a few small changes to ensure that the dessert you are eating is diabetes-friendly. 

This could include making some swaps, lowering portion sizes, or enjoying desserts that are generally going to be better for you. You can easily satisfy your sweet cravings without your blood sugar levels getting out of control.

Many people will automatically assume that dessert is going to be completely off-limits due to the fact that they are mostly made of sugar, but it is the total number of carbohydrates in your dessert that matters more than the sugar content. 

Be sure to adjust your insulin when consuming more carbohydrate. Make sure your provider or your educator is on board with your plans. You will want to avoid unintentional hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Examples of desserts that are great for those with diabetes:

  • Granola that contains no added sugar with a topping of fruit
  • Trail mix that contains nuts, seeds, roasted pepitas, and dried cranberries
  • Angel food cake
  • Chia seed pudding
  • Low sugar avocado mousse
  • Plain Greek yogurt with your favorite fruit or berries
  • A variety of mixed berries topped with homemade whipped cream with no added sugar
  • Low sugar brownies
  • Fruit and lean protein combination (banana with peanut butter, apple with cheese, peaches with cottage cheese)

Fruit contains a variety of minerals and vitamins that are good for you, and it also contains fiber, which can help to stabilize blood sugar and lower cholesterol. It is best to pair it with a lean protein for optimal postprandial (post meal) results.

Can Diabetics Eat Chocolate?

Whether you are newly diagnosed or you haven’t paid any attention to your diabetes educator in the past, I am here for you. For many people, chocolate is a guilty pleasure and it’s one more thing you don’t want to have to “AVOID.”

As a general rule, diabetics can eat chocolate, but if you have diabetes, you should aim to eat chocolate in moderation. Chocolate will affect your blood sugar levels, which is why it is important to not eat it in large quantities. Dark chocolate is a better choice for diabetics. 

Once again, I recommend reading your food labels, as some chocolate products contain a significant amount of fat, as well as a significant amount of sugar. 

Something to note about chocolate is that it can potentially improve insulin response and blood sugar due to the presence of flavanols.  

Flavenols are potential anti-cancer agents. They display anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial effects, and they may protect the liver.

Most of the chocolate that people eat will only contain very small amount of flavanols and very high amounts of sugar, but dark chocolate has more flavanols than milk or white chocolate. 

In fact, dark chocolate is noted to be one of the top 10 sources of flavenols if you are doing Internet searches.

You can still have chocolate as a diabetic, but you should always be mindful of your intake of carbs. Lower-carbohydrate options are available when it comes to chocolate treats. 

Personally, I do not recommend “diabetic chocolate.” It has just as many calories and fat grams as regular chocolate, sometimes more. It will still raise blood sugars, and it is usually more expensive.

Opt for a good quality dark chocolate. Chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa is the best option, as it is a good source of flavenols. 

What are the Advantages of Cocoa For Diabetes?

  • Promotes the flow of blood to your heart and your brain 
  • Helps prevent blood clots
  • Helps to lower blood pressure
dessert for diabetics
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bites by Erin Porter

For a Gluten Free, Healthful, Low Sugar Treat, try:

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bites

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup organic rolled oats
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips (I use Lily’s brand as they have no added sugar and sweetened with Stevia)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon flaxseed (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients and roll into bite size balls and enjoy!

For full recipe and list of ingredients go to www.eatpraygetwell.com

Recipe compliments of:

Author: Erin Porter

Conclusion

In summary, people with type 1 diabetes can include chocolate as a part of a meal plan. I stand by my, “Never say never” philosophy unless someone can get hurt or injured. 

During the month of March of every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic (AND) celebrates the month by promoting a theme for National Nutrition Month. A past theme that was used is “All Foods Can Fit.”

Assuming no allergies or injuries, I support this statement. You don’t want to deprive yourself of anything you really love. Smaller portions, less frequently, is key. Diabetes is not a punishment. 

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