Diabetes nutrition: Including sweets in your meal plan

Diabetes nutrition focuses on healthy foods, but sweets aren't necessarily off-limits. Here's how to include sweets in your meal plan.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Diabetes nutrition focuses on healthy foods. But you can eat sweets once in a while without feeling guilty or significantly interfering with your blood sugar control. The key to diabetes nutrition is moderation.

The scoop on sugar

For years, people with diabetes were warned to avoid sweets. But what researchers understand about diabetes nutrition has changed.

  • Total carbohydrates are what counts. It was once assumed that honey, candy and other sweets would raise your blood sugar level faster and higher than would fruits, vegetables or "starchy" foods, such as potatoes, pasta or whole-grain bread. But this isn't true, as long as the sweets are eaten with a meal and balanced with other foods in your meal plan.

    Although different types of carbohydrates affect your blood sugar level differently, it's the total amount of carbohydrates that really matters.

  • But don't overdo empty calories. Of course, it's still best to consider sweets as only a small part of your eating. Candy, cookies and other sweets have few vitamins and minerals and are often high in fat and calories. You'll get more empty calories — calories without essential nutrients — when you eat sweets.

Have your cake and eat it, too

Sweets count as carbohydrates in your meal plan. The trick is substituting small portions of sweets for other carbohydrates — such as bread, tortillas, rice, crackers, cereal, fruit, juice, milk, yogurt or potatoes — in your meals. To allow room for sweets as part of a meal, you have two options:

  • Replace some of the carbohydrates in your meal with a sweet.
  • Swap a high-carb-containing food in your meal for something with fewer carbohydrates and eat the remaining carbohydrates in your meal plan as a sweet.

Let's say your dinner is a grilled chicken breast, a medium potato, a slice of whole-grain bread, a vegetable salad and fresh fruit. If you'd like a small frosted cupcake after your meal, look for ways to keep the total carbohydrate count in the meal the same.

Perhaps you trade your bread and fruit for the cupcake. Or replace the potato with a low-carbohydrate vegetable such as broccoli, then have the small cupcake.

To keep the total carbohydrate count the same when making trades, read food labels for the total carbohydrate count. This count includes starch, fiber, sugar and sugar alcohols — a type of reduced-calorie sweetener — and tells you how much carbohydrate is in one serving of the food. Consult your dietitian if you have questions.

Oct. 14, 2016 See more In-depth