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Fitting Sugar Into Your Meals

It is commonly thought that people with diabetes should avoid all forms of sugar. Most people with diabetes can eat foods containing sugar as long as the total amount of carbohydrate for that meal or snack is consistent and sugar foods are added within the context of healthy eating. Many research studies have shown that meals which contain sugar do not make the blood sugar rise higher than meals of equal carbohydrate levels which do not contain sugar. However, if the sugar-containing meal contains more carbohydrates, the blood sugar levels will go up.

Which will have the greater effect on blood sugar?

____ 1 tsp sugar or ____ 1/2 cup potatoes

The potatoes will contribute about 15 grams of carbohydrates, while a level teaspoon of sugar will only give 4 grams of carbohydrates. Therefore, the potatoes will have about three times the effect on blood sugar as compared to the table sugar.

Meal Planning Practice

Using the following foods, plan two breakfast meals containing approximately 45 grams of carbohydrate. Notice that there are some foods on this list you might think would not be "allowed" on your meal plan. But again, any of these foods can be used as long as you limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat at a given meal to what is indicated on your individualized meal plan. (In the example below, this means you can choose whatever foods you want as long as the total carbohydrate equals no more than 45 grams).

Food
 Amount
 Carbohydrate Grams
 
1% fat milk
 1 cup
 12
 
Bran Chex
 2/3 cup
 23
 
Frosted Flakes
 3/4 cup
 26
 
Raisin Bran
 3/4 cup
 28
 
bread/toast
 1 slice
 15
 
sugar. white table
 1 teaspoon
 4
 
pancakes - 4 inches
 2
15
 
low-fat granola
 1/2 cup
 30
 
yogurt, fruited
 1 cup
 40
 
yogurt, fruit with
NutraSweet fruit juice
 1 cup
 19
 
fruit juice
 1/2 cup
 15
 
banana
 1/2
 15
 
pancake syrup
 2 tablespoons
 30
 
light pancake
sugar free syrup
 2 tablespoons
 4

Sample Breakfast One

Food
 Carbohydrate Grams
 
Fruit yogurt (with NutraSweet)
 19
 
Cinnamon-sugar toast - 1 slice with 1 teaspoon sugar and one teaspoon margarine
 19
 
Milk, 1/2 cup
 6
 
Carbohydrate total =
 44

Does this mean I can eat cake and not worry about it?

No! A slice of white cake with chocolate icing ( 1/12 of a cake or 80 gram weight) will give you about 300 calories, 45 grams of carbohydrates and 12 grams of fat. That is three starch servings and over 2 fat servings. Before you have a slice of cake, ask yourself the following questions: Will that small piece of cake be satisfying or will I still be hungry? How it will fit into my meal plan? Do I have 300 calories to "spend" on this? Are there other choices I could make which would contribute less fat? A 1/12 slice of angel food cake has less than 1 gram of fat and only 30 carbohydrates. This may be a better choice.

Controlling all carbohydrates

It is important to realize that sugar is not the only carbohydrate that you have to "control." The body will convert all carbohydrates to glucose - so eating extra servings of rice, pasta, bread, fruit or other carbohydrates foods will make the blood sugar rise. Just because something doesn't have sugar in it doesn't mean you can eat as much as you want. Your meal plan is designed so that the carbohydrate content of your meals remains as consistent as possible from day to day.

A word of caution:

Although sugar does not cause the blood sugar to rise any higher than other carbohydrates, it should be eaten along with other healthy foods. If you choose to drink a 12 ounce can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink, that would use up about 45 grams carbohydrates - and you wouldn't have gotten any nutrition (protein, vitamins or minerals). What a waste of calories!

High sugar foods are more concentrated in carbohydrates. Therefore the volume would be smaller than a low sugar food. What is your eating style? Are you able to control your portion size - or are you likely to overeat? High sugar foods might not be a good choice if they will just tempt you to eat more. If you would rather eat larger portions, select low sugar choices. Look at the differences in portion size you get for equal amounts of carbohydrate in these cereals!

 1/4 cup
 1/3 cup
 3/4 cup
 1 cup
 1 1/4 cup
 
 Granola
 Frosted Flakes
 Cornflakes
 Cheerios
 Puffed Wheat
 
In addition, many sugar-containing foods also contain a lot of fat. Foods such as cookies, pastries, ice cream and cakes should be avoided largely because of the fat content and because they don't contribute much nutritional value. If you do want a "sweet" - make a low-fat choice, such as low-fat frozen yogurt, gingersnaps, fig bars or graham crackers and substitute it for another carbohydrate on your meal plan.

Talk with your diabetes dietitian educator to select the best "sweet" choices for your meal plan. If you have not met with a dietitian in the past year or if you do not have a personal meal plan, scheduling an appointment with a dietitian would help you to incorporate these guidelines in the best way for you and your diabetes control.

See our latest cookbooks and nutrition books at the Joslin Store.

Page last updated: November 01, 2014