granola bar broken up into four pieces

Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes - What You Need to Know

We hear all the time that sugar is associated with diabetes. In fact, the name “diabetes mellitus” originates from the Greek root words “to pass through” and “like honey,” as one characteristic of diabetes mellitus is the presence of sugar in someone’s urine.1 Many people with diabetes feel they need to either completely avoid added sugar or are unsure how much sugar is too much. The fact is, even for individuals with diabetes, if you follow an overall healthy and balanced diet, there is still room for small amounts of those sugary treats.2 Just keep in mind that portion control and balance are key! Here are some ways to include a little sweetness in your diet without going overboard.

Portion control is crucial

While it’s perfectly okay to indulge in a sugary treat every so often and on special occasions, it is important to keep in mind the amount that you are eating at one time. Rather than polishing off a giant serving of chocolate cake, try slowly reducing the size to help you adjust to eating that more reasonable just right amount. Practicing mindful eating is a great way to get the most out of each bite! Check out some of our sample day of meals with set calories.

Pair your sugar with healthy fat and protein

It is best to eat your sugar with other nutrients rather than alone. Pair your sugary treat with healthy fats (think nuts, seeds, avocados, and plant oils that are liquid at room temperature) and lean proteins to slow down digestion and avoid blood sugar spikes.3,4 To satisfy that sweet tooth, try making a snack bar with dried fruits for sweetness and nuts for heart-healthy fats. If you’re short on time, you can even cut up a Lara bar or Kind bars into small pieces for portion control.

Look for hidden sugars in your processed and packaged foods

While many packaged products may look like healthy options, always read labels carefully, as certain foods have added sugars. Look for any of the following ingredients in the top five in the ingredient list (which indicates that your food may be high in sugar): sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup.3

Understand the low-down on dried fruits

Have you been wondering if dried fruits are a healthy choice for someone with type 2 diabetes? Always remember that both fresh and dried fruits are full of important nutrients. However, dried fruits contain more concentrated levels of sugar than fresh fruits, so it’s important to be mindful of your serving size. While having a small amount may give you that bit of sweetness you were craving, keep in mind that the larger serving size of fresh fruit may leave you feeling more satisfied.5

Adjust as needed to find the right balance

If you sometimes like to finish your meal with a sweet treat and want to plan properly, then make sure to account for the other carbohydrates in your main meal. This way, you can still make sure you stay within your total carbohydrate allotment for that meal. For example, if you know you will be indulging in a piece of chocolate cake at your friend’s birthday party, then ditch the potatoes at dinner, and make sure to savor that dessert! While this shouldn’t be a habit with every meal, it can be a good tactic to help prevent cravings that would be more difficult to control if you restrict your sweet tooth all the time!

Skip the sugar-sweetened beverages

While some sugar in portion-controlled amounts and eaten as part of a balanced meal can be part of your healthy diabetic eating pattern, it is recommended that you avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.2 Skip the soda, juices, sweet tea, and other sugar-concentrated drinks, and instead hydrate with water, or unsweetened flavored sparkling water or tea. You can even get creative at home and infuse your water with some of your favorite fruit!

Enjoy your meals with a side of exercise

Exercising after eating will help your body use the glucose in your bloodstream, which helps regulate your blood sugar levels. Plus, exercise has tons of other health benefits such as improved mood, sleep, and overall energy!6 Not only will it help you feel better in the short term, but it can help prevent other diseases down the road and keep you on track with a healthy lifestyle.

Still have questions?

Check with your doctor and registered dietitian to learn more about healthy meal planning for those with type 2 diabetes.

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