How Sugar can be Part of a Diabetes-healthy Diet

  • author name Gabrielle Nichisti, RD, LDN
Birthday party

One of the myths about diabetes is that you must avoid sugar. The truth is you can enjoy an occasional sweet treat or dessert if you plan it as part of a diabetes-healthy diet.

The key to controlling your blood glucose level is that you have to be aware of more than the obvious sources of sugar, like the table sugar you might put in your coffee. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that raises blood glucose levels. But it’s not the only one—carbohydrates include sugar, starch, and fiber. Let’s take a look at each one.


Sugar can be naturally occurring, as in fruit or milk, or added during cooking or food processing. It goes by many names—table sugar, molasses, brown sugar, honey, raw sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup, to cite a few. The chemical name for sugar is sucrose, but for example, the sugar in milk is lactose. If you’re checking food labels, look for words ending in “-ose” as this will indicate the technical names for sugar.


Starches are another substance that can raise your blood glucose levels if not kept in check. Foods high in starches include vegetables like corn, lima beans, and potatoes, as well as dried beans, and grains. When eating grains, be sure to incorporate more whole grains because they contain all parts of the grain. Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and soda crackers, contain only the starchy part, leaving out one of the most beneficial nutrients -- fiber.


Fiber is also a carbohydrate, but unlike the first two, does not raise your blood glucose. That’s because fiber comes from plants and is not broken down in your body. Your body needs fiber for digestive health, so when you see fiber listed on a food label, you can subtract it from the total carbohydrates you are eating.

Now that you can recognize the types of foods that raise blood glucose levels, here are 5 tips on how you can include that piece of birthday cake, or decrease your overall sugar consumption.

  1. Eat sweets with a meal. Eating sweets alone will cause your blood sugar to spike, but eating a treat along with your meals won’t cause your blood sugar to rise as rapidly.
  2. Substitute! Research shows that the total amount of carbohydrate you eat affects blood glucose levels more than the type. Most sweets contain a large amount of carbohydrate in a small serving, so to get that treat you want, substitute small portions of sweets for other foods with carbohydrate.
  3. Say no to soft drinks, soda, and juice. Research indicates these drinks can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, so you should obviously avoid them if you already have diabetes.
  4. Go unsweetened. Buy unsweetened products like iced tea or oatmeal and sweeten them with a non-nutritive sweetener such as sucralose or stevia. Don’t forget you can also reduce the sugar in recipes by either using less or using a sugar substitute.
  5. Read labels. If you don't have a lot of time when reading labels, simply look at the total carbohydrate. This number includes starch, fiber, sugar, and sugar alcohols. Using total carbohydrate is a very accurate way to count carbohydrates. If you only look at the grams of sugar, you won’t be accounting for that fact that all the grams of carbohydrate in the product will eventually breakdown into sugar in your body.
author name

Gabrielle Nichisti, RD, LDN

Gabrielle Nichisti, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian with the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at Lancaster General Health.

Education: A graduate of the Pennsylvania State University, Nichisti values both education and counseling to connect with her patients. Passionate about leading an enjoyable, healthy lifestyle, Nichisti strives to help others overcome obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Call: 717-544-5923

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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