Having diabetes doesn't mean you can never have dessert again. With some simple swaps and diabetes-friendly dessert recipes, you can satisfy your sweet tooth without sending your blood sugar soaring.
Pictured Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Desserts may seem off-limits since many are high in sugar, but remember that for people with diabetes the total number of carbohydrates of a meal or snack matters more than the total sugar. That means dessert can still fit into your diet—with a few adjustments. Before you head to the kitchen, here are a few dessert guidelines and some of our favorite sweets that fit into a diabetic diet.
If you opt for something sweet after dinner, you might want to skip the starch at your meal to keep your total carbs in check. By swapping carbohydrates, instead of adding them, you're also helping keep your blood sugar levels steady. Keeping mealtime carbs consistent also makes it easier for diabetes medications, such as mealtime insulin, to work properly to keep your blood sugar steady.
But remember that, while exchanging your sweet potato for cheesecake can keep your carb intake steady, you'll lose the fiber, vitamins and other good-for-you nutrients that the sweet potato would provide. It's not a good idea to indulge in dessert every night; instead, enjoy desserts in moderation.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that most people with diabetes aim for 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. Unfortunately, a bakery-sized cookie can contain 60 grams of carbs alone. Choose a smaller portion, and you can still enjoy something sweet without using up your allotted carbohydrates for the meal. One of these Almond Cookies has only 9 grams of carbohydrates.
Pictured Recipe: Apple-Nut Wedges
While making desserts with artificial sweeteners can help you cut down on calories and carbs, it's a better idea to try to reduce your total sweetener consumption (from both sugar and noncaloric sources). Because artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, they may enhance your craving for sweets. They have also been shown to alter your gut bacteria, which can affect how the body regulates blood sugar.
Pictured Recipe: All-American Apple Pies
Fruit is one of the best desserts for people with diabetes (same goes for people who don't have diabetes). Not only does it have good-for-you vitamins and minerals, it also contains fiber. Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar and can also lower cholesterol. When people with diabetes in one study consumed 50 grams of fiber per day, they had better blood sugar control than those who consumed just 24 grams per day. Half of this fiber was soluble, which is found in fruits, such as apples, oranges and pears. Aim for at least 25-30 grams of total fiber per day. These satisfying Pineapple Raspberry Parfaits pack 3 grams of fiber per serving. Make a fruit parfait with plain yogurt or choose a brand lower in sugar to cut down on carbohydrates even more.
Good news for people with diabetes: Eating chocolate may actually improve insulin response and blood sugar control because of the presence of flavanols, which are protective compounds found in cocoa. The problem is that most of the chocolate we eat contains only small amounts of flavanols and is loaded with added sugar. You can still have some chocolate, but nix some of the sugar and increase flavanols by opting for dark chocolate instead of milk or white. If plain dark chocolate doesn't please your palate, try one of these lower-carbohydrate chocolate treats.
While traditional gelatin desserts, such as Jell-O, contain about 20 grams of sugar in one serving, sugar-free Jell-O can be a good alternative for people with diabetes who want an after-dinner indulgence. The downside? With only one gram of protein and not much else, Jell-O has little nutritional value. Plus, sugar-free versions contain both artificial colors and sweeteners. Even though it's low in carbohydrates, it's still best to limit sugar-free gelatin consumption.
Related: Buyer's Guide to Sweeteners
Going out for ice cream may not be as much fun when you have diabetes, since one cup of vanilla ice cream delivers around 30 grams of carbohydrates. While frozen yogurt may seem like a healthier option, most brands pack more sugar than ice cream since they typically have less fat to help carry the flavor. If you are ordering out, ask for a mini or kid-size portion. Otherwise, consider saving money and carbs by making a healthier frozen treat at home. This Berry Frozen Yogurt has 22 grams of carbohydrates but also delivers 3 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, as well as 28 percent of your daily value of vitamin C. Or, try Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches if you want both a diabetic-diet-friendly and kid-friendly treat!
Most Americans eat too much sugar, and it's especially important for people with diabetes to keep an eye on their intake. Of course, having a healthier and portion-controlled sweet treat once in a while can be part of a healthy diet, even for people with diabetes. The key is moderation and making tweaks to treats so they fit in your diet. And if you're having trouble keeping your blood sugar under control, be sure speak with your health-care professional.
Watch: What Does a 1-Day Diabetes Meal Plan Look Like?