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, sugar-sweetened beverages and other sweets and food with added sugars 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 and food and drinks with added sugars.

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 replace the remaining carbohydrates in your meal plan with 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, which allows you to 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.

Consider low-calorie sweeteners

Low-calorie sweeteners (sugar substitutes) can provide the sweetness of sugar with fewer calories and carbohydrates. Using them in place of sugar can help you cut calories and stick to a healthy meal plan.

Artificial sweeteners

Examples of artificial sweeteners include:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet)
  • Saccharin (Sweet'N Low)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Neotame (Newtame)

Be aware, however, that you need to consider the calories and carbohydrates, which can affect your blood sugar level, in baked goods and other products made with artificial sweeteners.

Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols make up another group of reduced-calorie sweetener. Sugar alcohols are often used in sugar-free candies, chewing gum and desserts. Check product labels for ingredients such as:

  • Isomalt
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Foods with sugar alcohols have fewer calories and affect blood sugar less than foods with other sweeteners do. However, foods with sugar alcohols can still contain large amounts of calories, carbohydrates and fats, so read labels carefully. Also, sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea in some people.

Naturally derived sweeteners

Naturally derived sweeteners such as stevia (Truvia, Pure Via) offer other sweetening options. Keep in mind that the sugar-to-sweetener ratio is different for each product, so you might need to experiment until you find the taste you like.

Reconsider your definition of sweet

Diabetes nutrition doesn't have to mean no sweets. If you're craving them, ask a registered dietitian to help you include your favorite treats in your meal plan. A dietitian can also help you reduce the amount of sugar and fat in your favorite recipes. Moderation is key.

Don't be surprised if your tastes change as you adopt healthier eating habits. Food that you once loved might seem too sweet — and healthy substitutes, such as baked apples and grilled pineapple, will hopefully become your new favorites.

July 03, 2021 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Medication-free hypertension control
  2. A1C test
  3. After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use?
  4. Air pollution and exercise
  5. Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?
  6. Alpha blockers
  7. Amputation and diabetes
  8. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  9. Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  10. Anxiety: A cause of high blood pressure?
  11. Artificial sweeteners: Any effect on blood sugar?
  12. Bariatric surgery
  13. Beta blockers
  14. Beta blockers: Do they cause weight gain?
  15. Beta blockers: How do they affect exercise?
  16. Blood glucose meters
  17. Blood glucose monitors
  18. Blood pressure: Can it be higher in one arm?
  19. Blood pressure chart
  20. Blood pressure cuff: Does size matter?
  21. Blood pressure: Does it have a daily pattern?
  22. Blood pressure: Is it affected by cold weather?
  23. Blood pressure medication: Still necessary if I lose weight?
  24. Blood pressure medications: Can they raise my triglycerides?
  25. Blood pressure readings: Why higher at home?
  26. Blood pressure tip: Get more potassium
  27. Blood pressure tip: Get off the couch
  28. Blood pressure tip: Know alcohol limits
  29. Blood pressure tip: Stress out no more
  30. Blood pressure tip: Watch the caffeine
  31. Blood pressure tip: Watch your weight
  32. Blood sugar levels can fluctuate for many reasons
  33. Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how
  34. Bone and joint problems associated with diabetes
  35. Pancreas transplant animation
  36. Build resilience to better handle diabetes
  37. Caffeine and hypertension
  38. Calcium channel blockers
  39. Calcium supplements: Do they interfere with blood pressure drugs?
  40. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  41. Caring for a loved one with diabetes
  42. Central-acting agents
  43. Choosing blood pressure medications
  44. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?
  45. Diabetes
  46. Diabetes and dental care
  47. Diabetes and depression: Coping with the two conditions
  48. Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar
  49. Diabetes and fasting: Can I fast during Ramadan?
  50. Diabetes and foot care
  51. Diabetes and Heat
  52. Diabetes and summer: How to beat the heat
  53. Diabetes and travel: Planning is key
  54. 10 ways to avoid diabetes complications
  55. Diabetes diet: Should I avoid sweet fruits?
  56. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan
  57. Diabetes foods: Can I substitute honey for sugar?
  58. Diabetes and liver
  59. Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar
  60. Diabetes: Eating out
  61. Diabetes symptoms
  62. Diabetes treatment: Can cinnamon lower blood sugar?
  63. Using insulin
  64. Diabetic Gastroparesis
  65. Diuretics
  66. Diuretics: A cause of low potassium?
  67. Do you know your blood pressure?
  68. Erectile dysfunction and diabetes
  69. High blood pressure and exercise
  70. Exercise and chronic disease
  71. Fatigue
  72. Free blood pressure machines: Are they accurate?
  73. Frequent urination
  74. Home blood pressure monitoring
  75. Glucose tolerance test
  76. Glycemic index: A helpful tool for diabetes?
  77. Hemochromatosis
  78. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  79. High blood pressure and cold remedies: Which are safe?
  80. High blood pressure and sex
  81. High blood pressure: Can you prevent it?
  82. High blood pressure dangers
  83. How does COVID-19 affect people with diabetes?
  84. Hypertensive crisis: What are the symptoms?
  85. Insulin and weight gain
  86. Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?
  87. Kidney disease FAQs
  88. L-arginine: Does it lower blood pressure?
  89. Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?
  90. Low-phosphorus diet: Helpful for kidney disease?
  91. Medications and supplements that can raise your blood pressure
  92. Menopause and high blood pressure: What's the connection?
  93. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  94. Pancreas transplant
  95. Pulse pressure: An indicator of heart health?
  96. Reactive hypoglycemia: What can I do?
  97. Reading food labels
  98. Resperate: Can it help reduce blood pressure?
  99. Service dogs assist with diabetes care
  100. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?
  101. Blood sugar testing
  102. Sodium nitrate in meat: Heart disease risk factor?
  103. Stress and high blood pressure
  104. The dawn phenomenon: What can you do?
  105. Tips for cutting costs of blood glucose test strips
  106. Unexplained weight loss
  107. Vasodilators
  108. Vegetarian diet: Can it help me control my diabetes?
  109. How diabetes affects your blood sugar
  110. How to measure blood pressure using a manual monitor
  111. How to measure blood pressure using an automatic monitor
  112. What is blood pressure?
  113. Can having vitamin D deficiency cause high blood pressure?
  114. Weight Loss Surgery Options
  115. What's your high blood pressure risk?
  116. White coat hypertension
  117. Why does diet matter after bariatric surgery?
  118. Wrist blood pressure monitors: Are they accurate?