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Diabetes nutrition: Including sweets in your meal planFrom MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com
Diabetes nutrition focuses on healthy foods. But you can eat sweets once in a while without feeling guilty or interfering with your blood sugar control. The key is moderation.The scoop on sugar
For years, people with diabetes were warned to avoid sweets. But what researchers understand about diabetes nutrition has changed.
It was once assumed that honey, candy and other sweets would raise your blood sugar level faster and higher than fruits, vegetables or foods containing complex carbohydrates. But many studies have shown this isn't true, as long as the sweets are eaten with a meal and balanced with other foods in your meal plan. Although different types of sweets can affect your blood sugar level differently, it's the total amount of carbohydrate that counts the most.
Of course, it's still best to consider sweets only a small part of your overall plan for diabetes nutrition. Candy, cookies and other sweets have little nutritional value and are often high in fat and calories. You'll get calories without the essential nutrients found in healthier foods.Have your cake and eat it, too
Sweets count as carbohydrates in your meal plan. The trick is substituting small portions of sweets for other carbohydrates — such as bread, tortillas, rice, crackers, cereal, fruit, juice, milk, yogurt or potatoes — in your meals. To allow room for sweets as part of a meal, you have two options:
Let's say your typical lunch is a turkey sandwich with a glass of skim milk and a piece of fresh fruit. If you'd like two cookies after your meal, look for ways to keep the total carbohydrate count in the meal the same. Trade your usual bread for low-calorie bread with fewer carbohydrates or eat only half the sandwich. Adding the cookies after your meal keeps the total carbohydrate count the same.
To make sure you're making even trades, read food labels carefully. Look for the total carbohydrate in each food, which tells you how much carbohydrate is in one serving of the food.Consider sugar substitutes
Artificial sweeteners offer the sweetness of sugar without the calories. Artificial sweeteners may help you reduce calories and stick to a healthy meal plan — especially when used instead of sugar in coffee and tea, on cereal or in baked goods. In fact, artificial sweeteners are considered "free foods" because they contain very few calories and don't count as a carbohydrate, a fat or any other food in your meal plan.
Examples of artificial sweeteners include:
But artificial sweeteners don't necessarily offer a free pass for sweets. Many products made with artificial sweeteners, such as baked goods and artificially sweetened yogurt, still contain calories and carbohydrates that can affect your blood sugar level.
The same goes for sugar alcohols, another type of reduced-calorie sweetener often used in sugar-free candies, chewing gum and desserts. Check product labels for words such as isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. Although sugar alcohols are lower in calories than is sugar, sugar-free foods containing sugar alcohols still have calories. And in some people, as little as 20 to 50 grams of sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea, gas and bloating.Reconsider your definition of sweet
If you're craving sweets, ask your registered dietitian to help you include your favorite treats into your meal plan. He or she can also help you reduce the amount of sugar and fat in your favorite recipes. And don't be surprised if your tastes change as you adopt healthier eating habits. Food that you once loved may seem too sweet — and healthy substitutes may become your new idea of delicious.
October 16, 2006