How Much Sugar Can a Person With Diabetes Have?

Some sugar may be okay if you have diabetes.
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If you have diabetes, you've probably been told to watch your sugar intake or eliminate sugar altogether. But does that mean you can't ever eat any sugar, or can you still enjoy a sweet treat now and then? While It's best to speak with your doctor, dietitian, and diabetes educator about how much sugar you can have each day, chances are you'll be able to eat some sugar as along as you're careful about how much and how often.

 

For most people, whether or not they have diabetes, a healthy diet can include some sugar, probably about 20 to 35 grams of sugar a day. For reference, a teaspoon of sugar has about 4 grams of sugar. A candy bar can easily have 30 grams sugar, and a can of sugar-sweetened soda has around 40 grams of sugar. So one sweet treat could put anyone over the healthy limit. And, keep in mind many foods have sugar in them even though they're not sweet tasting.

But, Didn't Eating Sugar Cause My Diabetes?

Technically, no. Eating sugar doesn't cause diabetes, or at least not all by itself. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of having type 2 diabetes and eating lots of sugary foods may have been part of the reason for your weight gain. 

Managing your weight can be an important part of treating your diabetes and that probably means cutting back on added sugars and high-fat foods and eating more whole-grains, fresh veggies, healthy fruits and lean protein sources.

As far as the amount of sugar you can have? It really depends on how many calories you are taking in every day. And it has to fit into your overall carbohydrate intake.

Choosing Better Carbohydrates

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes "follow a dietary pattern that includes carbohydrate from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat milk is encouraged for good health." 

In addition, the American Diabetes Association suggests keep track of your carbohydrate intake and choosing more foods that are lower on the glycemic index.

If a person wants to eat something higher in sugar, the best thing to do is swap out some of the other carbohydrates at the same meal. For example, if you want to have a small piece of cake, you'll need to omit the bread, pasta, rice or potatoes that are served with your regular meal. Be careful, though, to keep the carb counts equivalent. Skipping a single slice of healthy whole-wheat bread and replacing it with a big slice of cake isn't going to work. Consult the USDA's Nutrient Database for calorie and carbohydrate counts or check out ChooseMyPlate.gov.

If you find you just can't beat your cravings for sweet foods, the American Diabetes Association suggests "sugar alcohols and nonnutritive sweeteners are safe when consumed within the daily intake levels established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

Fruits and berries can also be excellent choices for a sweet tooth. Be sure to eat the whole fruits so you get the fiber. Shy away from drinking too much fruit juice, becasue, without the fiber, juice affects your blood sugar levels about the same as if you drink a sugary beverage.

Cutting Down on Sugars

In order to cut back on sugar, it may help to have a list of all the foods and ingredients that count as sugars. Look for these sweeteners when you read ingredients list:

  • Sugar, including turbinado (raw sugar), cane sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, confectioners sugar
  • Sugar cane syrup
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Fructose
  • Maple Syrup
  • Agave nectar
  • Rice syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup

A Word from Verywell

It's important to eat a balanced diet including lots of healthy and low-calorie foods. Keep your carbohydrate intake consistent from day to day and save the sugary sweets for special occasions like birthdays or holidays.

Speak to your health care provider, dietitian-nutritionist, or diabetes educator before making any changes in your diet. 

Sources:

American Diabetes Association Diabetes Care. "Nutrition Recommendations and Interventions for Diabetes A position statement of the American Diabetes Association."

American Diabetes Association. "Sugar and Desserts."

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center. "Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity ." 

Maher AK. "Simplified Diet Menu." Eleventh Edition, Hoboken NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, October 2011. 

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