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A 'Spoonful of Sugar' May Be Acceptable for Some Diabetics

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Feb. 16, 2001 -- People with diabetes know the drill: No sugar in the diet. It's hard to resist, though, when you live and work in the real world, where people celebrate holidays and special occasions, and someone's always bringing a treat to the office. So most people "cheat" and pay the price in guilt. But could it be that a little sugar isn't really cheating?

For people with type 2 diabetes, some sugar in the diet may be tolerable, according to a Canadian study published in the February issue of the journal Diabetes Care. Type 2 diabetes also is known as "adult-onset" or "noninsulin-dependent" diabetes, even though some people with type 2 also use some insulin and children also can be afflicted with this disease. The investigators found that type 2 diabetics can include a moderate amount of sugar in their diets without consuming more calories and without compromising glycemic control.

"Many people with diabetes, even when taught the traditional approach of avoiding sugar, do eat some," lead author Jean-François Yale, MD, tells WebMD. "They may feel guilty for doing so. This study suggests to them that if they learn how to do it -- for example, by replacing other carbohydrates such as a slice of bread with sugar -- they can do it in a manner that will not be harmful to them. People living with type 2 diabetes should discuss this topic openly with their dietitians."

In other words, the study does not recommend unrestricted sugar consumption, or a "free for all," Yale says. He is an associate professor of medicine at McGill Nutrition and Food Science Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he is the director of the Metabolic Day Centre at Royal Victoria Hospital.

The investigators followed 48 patients with type 2 diabetes who were living in the community. The so-called "sugar group" was taught how to use and incorporate sugar choices into their meal plans, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association's guidelines. These guidelines help patients substitute a sugar choice for a carbohydrate choice; for example, two teaspoons of honey may take the place of a serving of fruit. The sugar group also was told that such choices could comprise as much as 10% of their total caloric intake, that sugar choices should be distributed throughout the day, and they should be vigilant for hidden fats in such choices.

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