What To Know About Diabetes + Sugar: A Dietitian’s Perspective

Blog, Wellness

By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

As a diabetes dietitian, I get a lot of questions about sugar. I wanted to share my thoughts about whether or not people can eat sugar… or things containing sugar like dried fruit, candy, etc.

As many of you already know, the answers to most questions related to food are: “In moderation.” For most people, there are no forbidden foods. Not everyone’s blood glucose responds in the same way to the same foods though. The only way to really know how a food affects you is by doing paired blood glucose checking – before and two hours after a meal. (For more information on how to do that, click here.)

Keep in mind that “sugar” is a very broad term. The sugar we are mainly concerned about in diabetes is “added sugar” – not as much natural sugar (also known as carbohydrates that are part of foods like yogurt, fruit, vegetables, milk, and grains). All carbs will raise your blood sugar. Carbs in combination with protein and fat will raise it more slowly than just eating pure carbs. This link has some great information about avoiding added sugar. 

Can people with diabetes eat sugar? Yes… as long as it is “in moderation.” For many people, that might mean, “a little less than you’re used to.” I generally look at the amount of added sugar in someone’s usual diet – and recommend places to reduce it, if blood glucose levels run high. Many people don’t need to buy special products like sugar-free ketchup or sugar-free peanut butter – but some folks are very sensitive to the added sugar, and they do better avoiding it. There are no hard and fast rules.

What about chocolate? Which kind is best – milk? Dark? While there are small differences in nutrition values for chocolate, the differences are small, so my usual answer is –enjoy the one you like best. (And check the labels so you know what you’re eating!)

Should I buy sugar-free chocolate? Sugar-free chocolate is made with a different kind of carbohydrate (known as sugar alcohol) – it still has calories and is often more expensive. Too much sugar-free candy can lead to an upset stomach (gas, bloating and diarrhea). So, I say – if you love it, it’s fine to have, but don’t buy it because you think it is better for your diabetes.

What about dried fruit? My next question would be, how much? A few dried apricots? Sure. No problem. A cup of dried apricots? That’s way too many carbs. Remember – one piece of dried fruit has the same nutrients as the equivalent whole/fresh fruit. Just as we would not recommend you eat 10 whole apricots at once, it’s not recommended to eat 10 dried apricots at once.