Should You Ditch Sugar if You Have Type 2 Diabetes?

Written by Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN

Q. I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Do I have to give up all sugar?

A. Having diabetes does NOT mean you must give up sugar forever! For any of us, with or without diabetes, having too much sugar in our diet can be unhealthy. Excess sugar is linked to an increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, and of course, elevated blood sugar levels.

However, even with diabetes, you can enjoy sugar in moderation. It’s important to note that eliminating all sugar from your diet doesn’t automatically mean you will be able to lower your blood sugar levels either. Foods that contain no added sugars, but are rich in simple carbohydrates, can also spike blood glucose levels.

When it comes to healthy blood sugar management, moderation is key. Sugar can be incorporated sparingly into your diet. Just remember that sugar is a form of carbohydrate, which means it will raise blood sugar levels. The type of carbohydrate, along with the amount you eat and what you eat with it, will alter how quickly your blood sugar levels rise and just how high they go. The simpler the carbohydrate, the more quickly blood sugar levels rise. That’s why it’s important to consume only small amounts of simple carbohydrates such as sugar each day.

If you are wondering what a simple carbohydrate is, it's a carbohydrate that is already a sugar or one that quickly converts to sugar. For instance, table sugar, honey, candy, white flour, and white rice are all simple carbohydrates. If you have been avoiding all added sugars, but are still consuming white rice or pasta at meals, your blood sugar will quickly rise, much as in the same way as if you had eaten added sugars. This is why your choice in carbohydrates, along with your portion, is more important that just avoiding all added sugars.

For the best management of diabetes, you want to:

A good rule of thumb to use is to limit total carbohydrates to 45 - 60 grams per meal and 15-30 grams per snack. Of these carbohydrates, the majority should come from complex sources such as whole fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. When choosing a simple carbohydrate, aim to pair it with a source of lean protein or healthy fat to help reduce the impact on blood sugar levels. For instance, if you are having a teaspoon of honey in your tea, but drinking it while eating a salad topped with grilled chicken, this will provide a much slower rise and fall in blood sugar levels than having the tea with honey on it’s own.

If you wish to add a little bit of sugar into your meal plan, look at your current carbohydrate choices and see if you can make adjustments to fit this in. If you are eating refined carbohydrates at any meal, such as white pasta, switch this out for a whole grain option such as 100% whole-wheat pasta instead. By doing this, you can reduce your overall consumption of simple carbohydrates and allow room for the occasional sweet treat.

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