By Michelle May, M.D.
Co-Author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes
"I love sweets! How can I eat what I love when I have diabetes?" This common question underscores a common misconception about diabetes. The old myth that eating sugar causes diabetes and must be avoided when you have diabetes is a misunderstanding about the nature of the problem.
To help you understand the importance of learning to eat what you love, consider this interesting report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine called "Association Between More Frequent Chocolate Consumption and Lower Body Mass Index" (Golomb et al). They speculated that maybe chocolate had some physiological effect on weight but I have a different theory:
People who eat what they love (in this case, chocolate) don't feel deprived. Therefore, they enjoy their favorite foods in moderation and therefore maintain a healthier weight. And, if they have diabetes, they should also be better able to maintain their glucose in the target range.
So the short answer is, yes, you can eat sweets even if you have diabetes. The full answer requires a little more information which I'll summarize here (of course, there's a lot more detail in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes):
- Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on blood glucose levels
- The total amount of carbohydrate you consume at each meal or mini-meal is important when you have pre-diabetes or diabetes
- A typical range to begin with is between 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal for women, 60-75 grams for men, with 15-30 grams for a snack. Follow your health professional's recommendations and monitor your blood glucose to determine the optimal range for you.
- Sugar is a carbohydrate
- Grains and grain products, starchy vegetables, fruit, and dairy are also carbohydrates
- Restriction can lead to feelings of deprivation, cravings, overeating, guilt, and more overeating
- Therefore, if you love sweets, it is wise to determine how to include them in your total carbohydrate intake rather than restricting, then overeating, them!