Recipes for Diabetes: What’s for Dessert?

By Lewis, Sarah, PharmD

It’s a misconception: I have diabetes, I can’t eat desserts or sweets. In the past, that’s what health experts recommended. Now, most healthcare professionals will tell you that you can include small amounts of sweets into a complete, well-balanced eating plan. However, there are some rules you need to follow.

Swap Carbohydrates

Sweets and desserts tend to have a lot of carbohydrate packed into very small portions. A carbohydrate is one of your main sources of energy, but not all carbohydrates are the same. Sweets and desserts are simple carbohydrates, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in dairy products. Complex carbohydrates are whole-grain breads, lentils, beans, and potatoes. In place of sweet and desserts, you can eat much larger amounts of a whole-grain starch and get the same amount of carbohydrate.

The total amount of carbohydrate you eat throughout the day will affect your blood glucose more than the type of carbohydrate. You can use the carbohydrate content of foods to balance your total daily amount. This is carbohydrate swapping or exchange.

The basic idea is to keep your total daily carbohydrate intake constant and swap starches for sweets. For example, you can have a cookie for dessert if you give up a piece of bread from your meal. You can balance your carbohydrates if you plan and keep track of what you’ve eaten through the day. Always check the nutritional labeling for carbohydrate content on packaged foods and have a reliable reference guide for home cooked foods or restaurant foods.

Control Portion Sizes

Keeping portion or serving sizes small is another key to adding desserts or sweets to your meal plan. For packaged foods, check the nutrition labeling for serving size and measure it or weigh it out. This way you’ll know exactly how much carbohydrate you’re eating. For homemade or restaurant desserts, try these tips:

  • Choose desserts that are individual portions, such as a cookie, instead of cake or pie. It’s easier to limit yourself to one cookie than it is to figure out the right portion of cake or pie.

  • Make mini desserts in small batches that can be stored or frozen. Mini cupcakes or mini tarts are examples.

  • Select desserts with lots of rich flavor so you’ll be satisfied with a smaller portion

  • Order a child’s portion of dessert

  • Share a dessert with someone else

Get Plenty of Physical Activity

Your activity level can affect what, when, and how much you can eat. Physical activity and exercise work to balance and control your blood sugar. Have a daily activity plan in the same way you have a daily meal plan. Consider adding extra activity time for those special occasions when you know you’ll indulge in sweets.

Work With a Diabetes Professional

There are a lot of things to consider when you think about adding sweets or desserts to your meal planning. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk with a healthcare professional who can help you. Registered dieticians (RD) and certified diabetes educators (CDE) are great resources for meal planning. They can help you understand carbohydrate content and teach you about proper portion sizes. Then, you’ll be ready to treat yourself!

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes