Can You Eat Dessert If You Have Diabetes?

Sugar doesn't have to be off-limits if you have diabetes. A registered dietitian explains how to make sweet treats blood-sugar friendly.

If you have diabetes, does that mean eating dessert is completely off-limits? Desserts tend to be made with a higher amount of sugar, and because managing blood sugar levels is vital for someone with diabetes, it almost seems like these types of sugary foods would be considered a big no-no in a diabetes meal plan.

Pictured Recipe: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Energy Bars

Thankfully, that's not true. Just because desserts contain sugar does not mean a person with diabetes should avoid them altogether. It's all about having the right balance of nutrients to steady blood sugar levels—and practicing moderation, according to Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, a recipe developer at Cheerful Choices.

Diabetes is a very prevalent condition among Americans; over 37 million people are managing a diabetes diagnosis, and 1 in 3 Americans has prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With so many people discovering how to properly manage their blood sugar levels for better health, it's important to learn how to eat to keep those spikes low while still enjoying a tasty dessert.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Energy Bars

How Desserts May Affect Your Blood Sugar Levels

Because desserts are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, they will cause faster and higher blood sugar increases than other foods. This is likely why people with diabetes may have the impression that they can't enjoy sweet foods.

However, the ingredients in a dessert matter in terms of your blood sugar response. A dessert that includes fruit—which is higher in fiber—will have a lower glycemic index number due to how fiber can slow down digestion and reduce blood glucose spikes. Same goes for protein and fat.

Can You Eat Desserts If You Have Diabetes?

Yes, you can enjoy dessert if you have diabetes. It's all about considering your individual needs. "Pay attention to how certain desserts make you feel and affect your blood sugar, because everyone is different," says Burgess. She explains that the number of carbohydrates, proteins and fat in a dessert, what you eat before the meal, and the time of day can all influence your blood sugar response to eating dessert: "Being aware of these factors can help you find desserts that make you feel your best."

Portion control is also key for avoiding crazy blood sugar spikes. While it may seem tedious to portion out a dessert, Burgess says this particular step will make it easier to manage levels while still enjoying a sweet treat when you want it.

Choosing the Best Dessert for Diabetes

What to Look For

"Dessert can absolutely be part of a healthy and balanced diet when consumed in moderation," says Burgess. "When choosing dessert, it's helpful for those with diabetes to consider options that contain fiber, protein and healthy fats, as these nutrients can help slow the absorption of carbs into the bloodstream, which helps balance blood sugar."

Some of Burgess' go-to desserts include Medjool dates stuffed with peanut butter, energy bites, chia seed pudding with toppings (like fruit, nuts and yogurt), desserts baked with protein powder, and nut butter-based desserts like these Almond Butter-Quinoa Blondies.

In addition, you may also include sweets made with sugar alternatives. Research published in the Journal of Medical Academics in 2018 shows that artificial sweeteners impact blood glucose less than regular sugar. "This may make them a good choice for those wanting to lower their carb and sugar intake while still enjoying dessert," says Burgess. "It really depends on each person and their taste preference," she says. However, some people may be more sensitive to artificial sweeteners and could experience digestive issues.

What to Limit

Though no food is completely off-limits, if you want to keep blood sugar levels low, it's important to limit eating desserts that contain primarily refined carbohydrates and sugar, such as snack cakes, candy or cookies. On the other hand, desserts that contain fiber, protein and healthy fats will help slow your blood sugar response. If your dessert doesn't have those elements, there are still ways to include them alongside a healthy meal or snack.

Tips to Include Dessert in a Healthy Diabetes-Appropriate Diet

"Pairing a high-sugar dessert with a protein or fiber source can help slow the absorption of the sugar into the bloodstream and prevent blood sugar spikes," says Burgess. "This is because protein and fiber take longer to digest than simple carbs like table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. For example, if you're eating a cookie, you may consider pairing it with a handful of nuts or fiber-filled fruit."

The timing of when you eat dessert can also make a difference in blood sugar levels. Burgess points to a 2019 study in Frontiers in Endocrinology that suggests that eating foods that contain protein and fat before one that's rich in carbohydrates (such as a sugary dessert) can slow down digestion and result in better insulin function compared to if you ate that carb-heavy (or sugary) food alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What types of desserts can people with diabetes eat?

All types of desserts are welcome for people with diabetes, as long as they're consumed in moderation and paired with a nutrient that helps slow down digestion, such as fiber, protein and healthy fats. Nevertheless, the best types of desserts to eat would be those that already include these elements and are naturally lower in sugar, such as fruit with cream, yogurt-based desserts and desserts with nuts or nut butter.

2. Can you eat cake if you have diabetes?

Yes, you can eat cake if you have diabetes—and you can also eat any other dessert you enjoy. The key to keeping blood sugar levels low is to portion out the slice, pair it with protein, fat and/or fiber to help slow glucose spikes, and enjoy the cake soon after a balanced meal.

3. Can people with diabetes eat sweets?

Sweets can be enjoyed in moderation. Another option for people with diabetes is to choose sweets with alternative sweeteners, including sucralose, erythritol, allulose, stevia and monk fruit. These sweeteners won't raise blood sugar as much as a traditional sugary dessert. However, it's best to talk to your health care provider to ensure artificial sweeteners are a good option for you.

The Bottom Line

As long as the dessert includes elements of fiber, protein and healthy fat—or is paired with a food that includes these things—a person with diabetes can certainly enjoy a dessert. These three nutritional elements are key for stabilizing glucose levels while you eat, avoiding the blood sugar spikes from a dessert high in sugar and carbohydrates. Fruit, seeds, nuts and nut butter all work well as add-ins for dessert items to keep blood sugar levels low.

Make a blood-sugar-friendly dessert at home with one of these 25 Diabetes-Friendly Desserts You'll Want to Make Forever.

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