Can you be diabetic and still have a sweet tooth? When we know that a balanced diet is an integral part of the effective treatment of diabetes, it’s a legitimate question. So let’s take a look at the subject to find out whether a fondness for sweets, desserts and other sugary foods is a real sin for a diabetic, or if it is an unfounded myth.
Carbohydrate needs in people with diabetes
The carbohydrate needs of a person with type 2 diabetes are the same as those of the general population. Thus, it is recommended that the daily energy intake from carbohydrates be between 45% and 60% of total calories. More specifically, a person with diabetes should consume between 45 to 75 grams of carbohydrate per meal and 15 to 30 grams per snack, if necessary. With regard to added sugars, a daily intake of 10% or less of total calories (less than 200 calories for an average intake of 2000 calories/day) is acceptable as long as it has no harmful effect on glycemic control. Obviously, it’s essential to individualize the quantity and allocation of carbohydrates during the day according to each individual’s eating habits, and to achieve this often requires the help of a nutritionist.
Type 2 diabetes and physical activity
Physical activity is an integral part of a diabetic's treatment plan, while several studies have shown that regular athletic activity has beneficial effects on blood sugar control, i.e. blood sugar level. Some people with milder diabetes therefore rely only on exercise to counteract these adverse effects. It’s not forbidden for these people to enjoy homemade pastries and desserts, but special attention must be paid to their type and frequency of consumption. For example, homemade pastries are good, as you control the addition of sugar yourself, as are fruits and dairy products instead of processed products, such as store-bought cookies and cakes. However, you can consume these in reasonable quantities and in a moderate way. In addition, physical activity is encouraged regardless of age, and should be done on a regular basis for optimal glycemic control.
The simplified carbohydrate method to control blood sugar
Someone with diabetes may choose to use the simplified carbohydrate method to make sure they’re getting the right amount of carbohydrate - and sugar! This method is defined as follows:
- An individualized diet plan indicating a predetermined amount of carbohydrates for each meal and snack.
- Carbohydrate intakes should remain the same from day to day. The key word is CONSISTENCY.
- The quantity of portions consumed during meals should be calculated.
When living with diabetes, you need to know the amounts of carbohydrates consumed during meals and snacks. To do this, Diabète Québec’s nutrition facts tables and exchange system are very useful tools. You should control the amount of carbohydrates per meal and snack as determined by the diet plan within the nearest 5 grams.
Thus, a diabetic person who follows this method has every right to have a dessert if they wish, although this requires some management. In fact, a diabetic person must check the quantity of carbohydrates in their dessert and be sure that this is included in the total number of carbohydrates that they are permitted to have. The sugars found in the dessert should replace other foods rich in carbohydrates ingested during a meal and not add to it. Thus, if you plan to eat a dessert, you can decide not to have a slice of bread with your meal, or drink water instead of juice.
Desserts for diabetics treated with insulin
Some diabetics need to use insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. These people can have a more flexible eating plan in terms of the amount of carbohydrates to consume with meals and snacks. They don’t need to worry about how many carbohydrates they can have. All they have to do is adjust their insulin according to an insulin/carbohydrate ratio determined by a healthcare professional. This is the advanced method of calculating carbohydrates. A person using this method therefore doesn’t need to monitor their diet excessively. The good thing is that people with diabetes can eat whatever they want and consume desserts as they see fit. On the other hand, insulin treatment doesn’t help you adopt healthy eating habits…
Best desserts for a diabetic person
Although desserts should not be completely banned from a diabetic’s diet, some choices are better than others. More specifically, it’s important to take the glycemic index into account. This is an index that classifies foods according to the rise in blood sugar that they cause when they’re eaten. Thus, it is best to avoid or moderate your intake of processed products, such as store-bought cookies and cakes, since they have a high glycemic index. Conversely, foods with a low glycemic index and good nutritional value, that is to say rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, should be encouraged.
Here’s a list of the best choices:
- Low fat dairy products (yogurt and cheese)
- A handful of unsalted nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.)
- Whole grain products (muffins, crackers, etc.)
- Homemade pastries (cookies rich in fibre, such as oats and raisins, desserts made with fruit compote as a substitute for sugar, etc.)
In short, desserts should not be excluded from the diet of a person with type 2 diabetes. All you need to do is not abuse them and adopt a few strategies so that they can be included in a diet plan designed for healthy eating. For example, reducing the dessert serving size and varying the sources of carbohydrates by opting for more nutritious choices is ideal. Finally, you can always enjoy a more decadent dessert – but only occasionally. At the end of the day, it's all about moderation.
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier