Joslin Answers Your Questions

Joslin Diabetes Center experts answer commonly asked questions about diabetes monitoring, treatment, self-care, meal planning, and more.
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Topic: Meal Planning and Diet
Question: I know I shouldn't eat anything with sugar in it, but I don't like the taste of most sugar-free products. What can I do?

Answer: Good news! You can actually eat foods that contain sugar. And you don't have to use sugar-free products, either.

What's most important is knowing how much carbohydrate is in a food, rather than how much sugar is in a food. This is because sugar is just one type of carbohydrate; there are other kinds of carbohydrate, too, such as starch. As long as you read the product's food label for the total amount of carbohydrate per serving, you can fit in foods that contain sugar. But, keep in mind that foods high in sugar—such as cookies or ice cream—are also usually high in calories and fat, so it's a good idea to eat sweets only on occasion, especially if you're trying to lose weight. One carbohydrate choice contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. That's about as much carbohydrate as is in one slice of bread, for example. So, if you're reading a food label and see that one serving of that food contains 30 grams of carbohydrate, you would be eating the equivalent of two slices of bread (two carb choices) if you eat that food. A dietitian can help you determine how much carbohydrate you should aim for in your meals and snacks. But until you see a dietitian, a good guide is to aim for 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal, and 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate per snack.

Many sugar-free products are sweetened with sugar alcohols, which are natural sweeteners that contain about half as many calories and carbohydrate as sugar. Examples include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. Sugar-free candy, cookies, and ice cream are usually made with sugar alcohols. Don't be deceived into thinking that these products are "free"—they still contain carbohydrate (and calories!), so they still need to be counted or fit into your eating plan. Also, eating too much of a food made with sugar alcohols can lead to cramps, bloating, and even diarrhea, as they tend to produce a laxative effect.

It does make sense to use certain types of sugar-free products because they actually are "free" foods in that they contain little, if any, carbohydrate and calories. Examples of these products include diet soda, sugar-free gelatin, and sugar-free frozen pops. These foods are sweetened with non-caloric sweeteners, such as aspartame or sucralose.

Remember: People with diabetes can eat just about anything. But it's important to know how to count a particular food into your eating plan. The best way to figure this out is to read the nutrition label for serving size and total carbohydrate.

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