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Calculate your whisks: Eating dessert with diabetes


They say that eating too much sugar does a handful of things: it ruins your teeth, spoils your appetite for dinner, increases your waistline and puts you on a fast track for diabetes. While sugar should not fill up the majority of your food pyramid, it’s a misconception that sugar alone causes diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and other unknown factors; Type 2 diabetes develops over time according to genetics and lifestyle choices (such as being overweight, eating a poor diet and lack of exercise). Needless to say, it gets a little complicated when it comes to sugar and managing diabetes. What does this mean? What about holidays and desserts? The cakes, the tarts, the pies? Oh, the pies!

Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2, having diabetes doesn’t completely limit you to that dusty little “sugar-free” section in the grocery store. In the not-so-distant past, people with diabetes were told to avoid sugar entirely; it was assumed that anything sugary would cause glucose levels to skyrocket. Cue the music and enter stage right: the sugar-free dessert options.

Here’s the thing about sugar-free desserts: They can be chock-full of added chemicals that can disturb your tummy (gurgle, gurgle) and it is unclear what these types of artificial sweeteners do to us over time. However, eating several slices of cherry pie with a giant iced mocha can truly disrupt your glucose levels (that bad choice for anyone). The secret to eating dessert with diabetes is moderation.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the best way to indulge your sweet tooth for a holiday dessert or two is to trade small portions of sweets and sweeteners for other carb-containing foods in your meal. Identify your carbs such as breads, potatoes, corn and peas, then tally up the amount of carbs in each serving. Then you can trade those carbs in equal amounts with whatever dessert you choose to have. Think of it like a game of musical chairs: Some of those carbs won’t get a place on your plate when the dinner bell rings, and that’s ok.

It’s easy to get what we can only refer to as the hubba-hubba saucer eyes of love when approaching a holiday spread. Being aware of how you build your plate before the desserts hit the table is also an important part of your dessert action plan.

“It’s all about portion control,” says Rebecca Russell, MPH, RD, community wellness and diabetes program director at Adventist Health Central Valley Network. “When you’re building a plate, start with veggies and take only smaller scoops of potatoes and casserole. Increase your turkey to gravy ratio and make proteins a quarter of the plate.” Russell also recommends using smaller plates and prioritizing your carbs: If Aunt Edna’s hashbrown surprise isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to skip it. “Focus on what’s important to you,” she says. If you feel like having round two, wait at least fifteen minutes.

Russell says you should also stay cautious of sugary drinks—these can add up quickly. “And when it’s time for dessert, choose one—and you don’t need a piece of pie the size of your head,” she says. “And afterwards you should go for a nice long walk.”

As much as a slice of pie the size of your head sounds delicious, eating desserts should always be approached with a bit of logic and a lot of healthy attitude—because while you don’t have to eat a plate of “sugar free pumpkin faux pie,” you should still be aware of the impact that real sugar will have on your glucose levels. And don’t keep the spare pie in the fridge for the next day—share the love with your neighbors or coworkers. This is good advice for anyone—not just those with diabetes. Healthy portions, balancing carbohydrates, and most of all, enjoying time spent with loved ones; that is the sweetest treat you can have.

To find out more about healthy dessert tips with diabetes, check out these resources: