Diabetes and sugar: how much to consume and what type
Everyone enjoys eating sugary foods and drinks from time to time – and there is no problem including them as an occasional treat as part of a healthy and balanced diet. For people with diabetes, sugary drinks or glucose tablets can be essential to help with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Sugars are found naturally in many foods in the U.S, but just because they are “natural” does not mean that they are healthier for you. Sugar is naturally found in fruits, vegetables (fructose), and dairy foods (lactose), as well as pure fruit juices, syrups, and honey. These sugars are typically called “free sugars”. Sugar does not cause Type 1 diabetes, and does not directly cause Type 2 diabetes. However, sugary foods and drinks contain more calories, and when you take in more calories than your body needs you can become overweight, which can increase chances of Type 2 diabetes.
Sugar alcohols are organic compounds and are a type of carbohydrate. Sugar alcohols are used as sweeteners that have about half the calories of regular sugar. They can occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, as well as artificially, such as in processed foods. Sugar alcohols take longer to digest, but can still raise your blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols are used in foods advertised as “sugar-free” and “no-sugar added”. Too much sugar alcohol can cause gas, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea.
You may see sugar alcohols as ingredients in many lower-calorie and sugar-free foods like: energy bars, ice cream, pudding, cakes, cookies, candies, and jams.
Artificial sweeteners, like Equal, NutraSweet, Splenda, Sweet’N Low, and Truvia are found in many “diet” products, and do not affect your blood sugar.
What Should I Do?
Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day.
There are lots of simple changes that can dramatically reduce the amount of free sugar in your diet. This could include:
- Instead of chocolate bars, sweets, and cakes, choose healthier snacks such as unsweetened yogurts, unsalted nuts, fruits and vegetables. For example, try natural yogurt mixed in with chopped fruit or a small handful of nuts.
- Try artificial sweetener in place of sugar.
- If you normally have sugary drinks, choose diet soda, or drinks with no added sugar. Or go for water with natural flavorings, like mint or sliced lemon.
- Try to cook from scratch where possible, so you can be sure of what’s in your food. There is often hidden sugar in many foods, such as baked beans, pasta sauces, ketchup, yogurts and ready meals.