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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is it OK to eat sugary foods if I have diabetes?

    I thought that all foods with sugar were a no go for people living with diabetes but a friend of mine told me differently. Is this true?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • I'm an Accredited Practising Dietitian with more than 30 years experience. Particular areas of interest and expertise are in Obesity & Weight Mgt, Type 2 … View Profile

    It really depends on what you mean by sugary foods?  These days we talk about Glycaemic Index which describes how quickly or slowly carbohydrates break down and affect blood glucose levels.  We encourage people with Diabetes to choose low - moderate GI carbohydrates such as multigrain or soy and linseed bread instead of white bread, Basmati rice instead of Jamine,  raw muesli instead of Rice Bubbles.  And just because a carb is Low GI, it doesn't mean you can eat a huge serve of it.  It's important to portion control carb intake as well.  There are many foods that contain “sugar” that are very healthy for people with diabetes.  For example - Lactose in Milk is a sugar,  Fructose in fruit is a sugar and these foods form part of a very healthy diet.  To learn and understand more about the GI, I can recommend you purchase Professor Jennie Brand-Miller's Low GI Diet Shopper's Guide 2012.  This is an easy to reference paperback book with categories of foods and their GI's.  It has an easy to understand section at the beginning on “Understanding the GI”.

  • Carolien Koreneff

    Counsellor, Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE), Diabetes Educator, Psychotherapist, Registered Nurse

    Carolien Koreneff is a Somatic (body-oriented) psychotherapist, Health Coach, Counsellor as well as a Credentialed Diabetes Educator with over 20 years experience. She currently sees … View Profile

    Usually it is recommended for people with diabetes to stay away from sugary foods as these tend to be full of “empty” calories which only tend to put our weight up. Weight gain can be dangerous for a person with diabetes as it tends to cause insulin resistance, and can cause a destabilisation of blood glucose levels.  

    Generally speaking, the only time when sugary foods are okay for a person with diabetes is when their blood glucose levels have dropped below 4 mmol/L and they are having a hypo.

    Of course there are exceptions to the rule, for example a person with type 1 diabetes  who can adjust their insulin doses according to carbohydrate intake may be able to get away with eating sugary foods from time to time, but as always: EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!

    If you would like to eat chocolate and you eat one little square once or twice per month, then this can probably be incorporated into your routine provided it is balanced with the rest of your diet and you do regular exercise, but if it ends up being a chocolate today, a meat pie tomorrow, a piece of cake the next day, some lollies thereafter and so on, then the balance is heading in the wrong direction, your waist line will expand and your blood glucose levels will rise or destabilise.

    I suggest you talk to your dietician or diabetes educator to discuss in more detail what you might be able to “get away with”.

  • Lisa Renn

    Dietitian

    Lisa is an APD with 12 years experience, specialising in helping people identify and change habits that impact negatively on their health. Inspiring change, Lisa … View Profile

    The diet for diabetes is simply health eating which means that most of the time you eat fruit, vegetables, lean meat, low fat dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds,whole grain breads and cereal products but some of the time you don't.

    Diabetes is for life so your management needs to be realistic and allow for the things that you enjoy in life and for some people this is sugary foods.
    As Dianne stated above all sugars ar not equal in their impact on blood sugar levels so knowledge of the glycaemic index is useful.

    An Accredited Practsing Dietitian can help to tailor a healthy eating plan which allows some of your favourite, not so healthy foods and plenty of tasty and easy meal and snack ideas which are healthy and will assist you in maintaining good blood glucose levels- everything in moderation is a good message to remember as Carolien stated.

    It's important to have a good diabetes team around you as there is a lot of misinformation out there.

    Good Luck!

  • Arlene is a registered practising dietitian, with a private practice in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, and has built a strong business over the last … View Profile

    Diabetes is on the rise, yet most cases are preventable with healthy lifestyle changes. Some can even be reversed. Taking steps to prevent and control diabetes doesn’t mean living in deprivation. While eating right is important, you don’t have to give up sweets entirely or resign yourself to a lifetime of bland “health food”.

    With these tips, you can still enjoy your favourite foods and take pleasure from your meals without feeling hungry or deprived. You can have the occasional sweet treat but watch your portion size and how often you have them as it can affect your weight which will affect your diabetes.

    Taking control of diabetes
    Have you recently been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes? Or has your doctor warned you that you’re at risk? It can be scary to hear that your health’s on the line, especially if you feel helpless to do anything about it.

    Here’s a scenario that may sound familiar: your doctor’s telling you how important it is to lose weight and transform your eating habits, but you’re already discouraged. After all, you’ve tried dieting in the past without success. And counting calories, measuring portion sizes, and following complicated food charts sounds like way too much work.

    Small changes equal big results
    Whether you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes, there is some good news. You can make a big difference with healthy lifestyle changes. The most important thing you can do for your health is to lose weight—and you don’t have to lose all your extra kilos to reap the benefits. Experts say that losing just 5% to 10% of your total weight can help you lower your blood sugar considerably, as well as lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s not too late to make a positive change, even if you’ve already developed diabetes. The bottom line is that you have more control over your health than you think.

    Not all body fat is created equal
    The biggest risk factor for developing diabetes is being overweight, but not all body fat is created equal. Your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen—the so-called “spare tire”—as opposed to your hips and thighs. So why are “apple” shaped people more at risk than “pears”?

    “Pears” store most of their fat close below the skin. “Apples” store their weight around their middle, much of it deep within the belly surrounding their abdominal organs and liver. This type of deep fat is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, many studies show that waist size is a better predictor of diabetes risk than BMI (body mass index).

    What you need to know about diabetes and diet
    Eating right is vital if you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes. While exercise is also important, what you eat has the biggest impact when it comes to weight loss. But what does eating right for diabetes mean? You may be surprised to hear that your nutritional needs are virtually the same everyone else: no special foods or complicated diets are necessary.

    A diabetes diet is simply a healthy eating plan that is high in nutrients, low in fat, and moderate in calories. It is a healthy diet for anyone! The only difference is that you need to pay more attention to some of your food choices—most notably the carbohydrates you eat.

    Myths and facts about diabetes and diet

    MYTH: You must avoid sugar at all costs.
    Fact: The good news is that you can enjoy your favourite treats as long as you plan properly. Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits, as long as it’s a part of a healthy meal plan or combined with exercise.

    MYTH: A high-protein diet is best.
    Fact: Studies have shown that eating too much protein, especially animal protein, may actually cause insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes. A healthy diet includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies need all three to function properly. The key is a balanced diet.

    MYTH: You have to cut way down on carbs.
    Fact: Again, the key is to eat a balanced diet. The serving size and the type of carbohydrates you eat are especially important. Focus on whole grain carbs since they are a good source of fibre and they are digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even.

    MYTH: You’ll no longer be able to eat normally. You need special diabetic meals.
    Fact: The principles of healthy eating are the same—whether or not you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes. Expensive diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit. You can easily eat with your family and friends if you eat in moderation.

    Diabetes and diet tip 1: Choose high-fibre, slow-release carbs
    Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—but you don’t have to avoid them. You just need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat.

    In general, it’s best to limit highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, and snack foods. Focus instead on high-fibre complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. Slow-release carbs help keep blood sugar levels even because they are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin. They also provide lasting energy and help you stay full longer.

    Choosing carbs that are packed with fibre (and don’t spike your blood sugar)
    Try these high-fiber options: White rice, Brown rice or wild rice, White potatoes (including fries and mashed potatoes), Sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, cauliflower mash, Regular pasta, Whole-wheat pasta, White bread, Whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, Sugary breakfast cereal, High-fiber breakfast cereal (Raisin Bran, etc.), Instant oatmeal, Steel-cut oats or rolled oats, Croissant or pastry, Bran muffin

  • Kate Marsh

    Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE), Diabetes Educator, Dietitian

    Kate works with clients with type 1 and gestational diabetes, PCOS, and those following a plant-based (vegetarian or vegan) diet. As a diabetes educator, she … View Profile

    As others have pointed out, there is no need to avoid sugar completely when you have diabetes. While large amounts of added sugar in foods with little nutritional value (such  as lollies and soft drinks) are not a good choice for anyone (diabetes or not!), having small amounts of sugar as part of a healthy diet is fine - for example a teaspoon of brown sugar on porridge or a small amount of honey or jam on some grainy toast.  When it comes to blood glucose levels, the important thing is the total amount of carbohydrate you eat and the glycemic index (the speed at which those carbs are broken down).  Choosing lower GI carbs (those which are more slowly digested) and controlling the amount of carbs you have at one time or matching your carb intake to your insulin (if you have type 1) is the key to keeping BGLs in check.

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