If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you don’t need to abolish every speck of sugar from your diet. Here’s why:
In a nutshell, people with diabetes have a hard time reducing the amount of sugar in their blood to normal levels, and a too high blood sugar is dangerous for a number of reasons. First, thick, syrupy blood reduces circulation, damages blood vessels and nerves, increases the risk of eye damage and is taxing to your kidneys, which have to work overtime to clear excess sugar from the body (via urine). High blood sugar is also linked to heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke and even without diabetes has also been tied to higher cancer rates in women. But, there are three important things you should know:
1. Quantity is king (& balance rules)
Eating pure, refined sugar by itself in high amounts is a recipe for disaster, but a small amount of brown sugar in a recipe for French toast made with high fiber whole grain bread, egg whites and nuts is A-OK. Sugar eaten by itself is absorbed quickly, causing blood sugar to swell, and the higher the quantity, the greater the surge. But fiber, protein and fat all help control the digestion and absorption of smaller amounts of sugar, creating a more "time released" increase over a longer period of time.
2. Not all sugars are created equal
There are two kinds of sugar: natural and added. Natural sugars are found ‘naturally’ in unprocessed food, like the sugar in fruit (fructose) and skim milk (lactose) - the food company didn’t add that sugar to the pineapple or milk, Mother Nature did. Even the strictest guidelines don’t recommend avoiding naturally occurring sugar because it’s naturally "bundled" with other key nutrients like fiber, antioxidants and protein and it doesn’t seem to wreck havoc on our bodies the same way added sugars do. Added sugars are sweeteners added by food companies or used in cooking, like granulated sugar in baked goods, sugary cereal or flavored milk. The World Health Organization recommends capping added sugar to 10% of your total calorie intake. That’s about 40 grams per day for most adult women, the equivalent of 10 level teaspoons of table sugar. Unfortunately, the grams of sugar on a Nutrition Facts label don’t distinguish between natural and added sugars. That’s why you’ll see 13 g of sugar on a label for canned pineapple when the only ingredients are pineapple and 100% pineapple juice. The best way to tell if a food contains added sugar is to scan the ingredient list, which appears in descending order by weight. Typical added sugars include: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sucrose, sugar and syrup. Seeing one of these terms within the first few ingredients means more added sugar per bite.
3. Sugar isn’t the only thing that raises blood sugar
The main cause of high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes is too much food, period. Even healthy foods like plain, unsweetened oatmeal can cause high blood sugar when the portion is too big. That’s why diabetic meal planning is far more complex than just avoiding sugar. The right portions in the right balance at the right times, coordinated with your physical activity level and medication schedule are all critical to regulating blood sugar. The good news is we know a lot about how to keep blood sugar in check and drastically reduce the risk of complications from diabetes.
Here are a few examples of delicious diabetes-friendly desserts excerpted from Prevention's new "Diabetes Diet Cookbook."