By Charmaine Zheng, Senior Dietitian, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital

Who says diabetics are not allowed to have desserts? Learn how to keep your sweet tooth happy with these tips.

The Singapore Government has declared a “War on Diabetes” and this had led to an increase in awareness and knowledge of this condition.

Many people (mistakenly) perceive diabetes as the result of eating too much sugary food and drinks. Diabetes is a condition where the body can no longer utilise the energy from carbohydrates (including sugar), causing dangerous spikes and dips in blood sugar.

Carbohydrates refer to complex carbohydrates, fibre and sugar – all of which can be found in food like rice, bread, noodles, biscuits, fruits, desserts and sweetened beverages. Carbohydrates have the largest impact on our blood sugar levels, causing it to rise. Therefore, it is important for a diabetic to control their total intake of carbohydrates, and not limited to only sugars, to optimise their blood sugar levels.

Carbohydrates come in many different forms, especially in processed and packaged food, such as starch, sugar, honey, sugar alcohol, polydextrose or maltodextrin. Even food and drinks that are labelled “sugar-free”, “no added sugar” or “diabetic friendly” may still contain a substantial amount of “non-sugar” carbohydrate and have a significant impact on blood sugar levels. Hence it is important to read the nutrition information panel and/or the ingredient list to make a wiser choice.

Balancing Act

If you are diabetic, identifying and knowing the amount of carbohydrates you are eating is important to keep the carbohydrate portions within your daily quota and this means that you can even enjoy an occasional dessert.

A “diabetic-friendly” dessert should be one that is relatively low in carbohydrates and calories. Ideally, it should also be high in fibre. This includes low-fat yoghurt with nuts, fresh fruits or even homemade reduced sugar cookies.

What about commercial desserts? Many Singaporeans find cooking or baking too much of a hassle and eating is regarded as a social activity; especially when we celebrate occasions such as birthdays or weddings. You can tweak your diet to enjoy a sweet finale – opt for brown rice instead of white rice, noodles or pasta and eat a little less than your usual serving. This means you can still afford to have a small slice of cake after your meal without bursting your “carb quota”. Celebrating a special occasion with desserts or ice cream? Ask for less sugar if possible, halve your portion or share it with a friend.

Poor diabetes control causes saliva to turn sweet, dulling the ability to taste sweet foods and increases sugar cravings. You can improve your diabetes control, which in turn helps with sugar cravings, by complying with your diabetes medications, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Low-calorie sweeteners can also be used as a stepping stone in cutting back your sugar consumption. However, do keep in mind that some sweeteners may still contain carbohydrate and consumption in large amount may have a laxative effect.

Know Your Sugar Substitutes

Sugar Alcohol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol
  • Mannitol
  • Glycerol
  • Lactitol
  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • These can be used to sweeten drinks or in cooking. However, keep in mind that these do not help reduce sugar cravings and should be consumed in limited amounts.