Hi, I have a family member with diabetes who has a sweet tooth. Can a person with diabetes continue to eat sweet stuff?

Diabetes occurs when a person has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells are not efficient to respond properly to insulin, or both. When you eat, your body converts food into glucose (sugars), and insulin helps the body use the glucose for energy.

Carbohydrates have the most effect on blood glucose levels and are found in starches like bread, rice and noodles, all fruit, starchy vegetables like potato and corn, milk and yoghurt, beans and lentils and sweets like chocolates, pastries, cakes and sugar.

Related: Carbohydrates and Diabetes

Carbohydrates can also be divided into sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates). The more refined the carbohydrate, such as sugar, the faster the glucose is released into your bloodstream. This can cause a sudden surge in blood glucose levels. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates (or starchy foods) release glucose into the bloodstream at a slower rate compared to sugary foods.

Many people with diabetes assume that their diagnosis means they must starve their sweet tooth and say no to sweet treats but this is not necessarily the case. People with diabetes can eat sweet foods as long as they are eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, combined with exercise and regular blood glucose monitoring.

A healthy meal plan is one that is low in saturated and trans fat, moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, wholegrains like brown rice and wholemeal bread, healthy fats and fruit.

Related: The Myths and Truths About Diabetes and Food

Nevertheless, it is important to note that because sweet foods like cakes and desserts are higher in simple sugars and often have little or no nutritional value, they are still food choices that should be considered treats and one should exercise mindful eating of these treats in limited quantities. Save the sweet foods for special occasions like the occasional slice of birthday cake and focus your meal on more healthy foods.

Try keeping a food record of all the foods and beverages that you eat in a week. Evidence has shown that when one keeps tab of what one eats, there is a natural sense of mindfulness to do the right thing.

Failing so, approach your dietitian. He or she can show you how to design your own meal plan to meet your needs while keeping your blood glucose levels in check, and without compromising taste or nutrition.

Reply by Jasmine Kwan, Dietitian,
Department of Nutrition Dietetics

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