Healthy Desserts for Your Diabetes Diet

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 28, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

You might think a diabetes diagnosis means you’ll have to skip dessert forever. “Not so,” says Lara Rondinelli-Hamilton, a certified diabetes educator at DuPage Medical Center in Chicago. “With a little planning, you can satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping your blood sugar under control.”

But just how do you do that? There are several ways.

Swap Other Carbs for Dessert

“Everyone focuses on the sugar, but what’s really important is the total carbohydrates,” says Rondinelli-Hamilton, author of the American Diabetes Association cookbook Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking.

“If you’d like to have a small piece of pie for dessert, skip the starchy vegetable during dinner,” she says.

But she’s quick to point out that this isn’t something you should do on a regular basis.

“Desserts and sweets don’t have the nutritional value that other foods do, so it’s best to save them for special occasions,” she says.

Think Small

Along with limiting how often you have dessert, you’ll also need to limit how much you eat -- and that can be a challenge.

“Sugar sets off fireworks in your brain, making you crave more,” says Jessica Bennett, RD, a dietitian at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Fighting the urge to overdo it takes a lot of effort. But there are ways to make it a little easier.

“Set yourself up for success by buying desserts that are packaged as a single serving, like a sugar-free fudge pop or a small square of dark chocolate,” Rondinelli-Hamilton says.

And be realistic.

“If you can’t have cake in the house without eating the whole thing, don’t buy a cake,” she says.

When you go out, check the menu for miniature desserts. Many restaurants now offer treats served in small dishes or shot glasses.

“If that’s not an option, order one dessert for the table so that everyone gets a few bites,” Rondinelli-Hamilton says.

Do It Yourself

Unless nutritional information is listed on the menu, you can never be sure what you’ll get when you order dessert from a restaurant. When you make it yourself, you know exactly what goes into it -- and what’s left out.

Instead of following recipes to a T, sub in items like applesauce for oil or artificial sweeteners for sugar.

No surprise, portion control is also a big deal when it comes to home-baked treats. So follow the restaurant trend and serve your goodies in small dishes with small spoons.

Fruity Treats

Make fruit a part of your dessert menu as much as possible, whether it is the dessert itself or is part of a recipe.

“Although fruit is high in carbohydrates, it’s also packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” Rondinelli-Hamilton says. If you crave something more than, try adding it to sugar-free gelatin or mixing up one of the following quick and easy fruit salads.

Melon Salad

In a medium bowl, combine 3 cups of cubed cantaloupe and 3 cups of cubed honeydew melon.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves and 1 tablespoon honey. Toss gently to coat.

Exchanges: 1 fruit (makes 6 servings, 70 calories per serving)

From Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking. Reprinted with permission from the American Diabetes Association Inc.

Fruit Salad With Yogurt Dressing

  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 cups green grapes
  • 1/2 cup plain, fat-free yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, toss together the strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, honey, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.

Pour this dressing over fruit and toss gently.

Exchanges: 1 1/2 fruit (makes 5 servings, 95 calories per serving)

From Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking. Reprinted with permission from the American Diabetes Association Inc.

If you’re looking for a fruity dessert to serve at a celebration, try this:

Banana Split Cake

  • 6 1/2 graham cracker sheets (two 1 1/2-inch squares per sheet)
  • 1 ounce sugar-free, instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 cups fat-free milk
  • 8 ounces light cream cheese
  • 10 ounces canned, crushed pineapple packed in juice, drained
  • 4 medium bananas, sliced
  • 8-ounce container light whipped topping
  • 3 tablespoons pecans, chopped

Cover the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan with graham cracker sheets.

In a medium bowl, prepare pudding with the milk according to package directions. Add the cream cheese to the pudding and whip together. Spread the pudding mixture over the graham crackers.

Spread the crushed pineapple over the pudding layer and top with bananas, then spread whipped topping. Sprinkle pecans on top.

Exchanges: 1 fat, 1 1/2 carbohydrate (makes 16 servings, 156 calories per slice)

From Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking. Reprinted with permission from the American Diabetes Association Inc.

While fruity desserts tend to be more nutritious, for some people, dessert just isn’t dessert without chocolate. If that includes you, this is the treat for you:

Chocolate Mousse Pie

  • 1 9-inch prepackaged pie crust
  • 1 1.4-ounce package of sugar-free, fat-free chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 2/3 cups fat-free milk
  • 1 8-ounce container of fat-free whipped topping, divided
  • 2 tablespoons mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pie crust according to package directions. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly.

In a medium bowl, whisk the pudding mix and the milk. Fold half (4 ounces) of whipped topping into pudding mixture and fold until fully blended.

Spread pudding mixture into pie crust and top with remaining whipped topping. Sprinkle top with chocolate chips.

Exchanges: 1 fat, 2 carbohydrate (makes 8 servings, 194 calories per slice)

From Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking. Reprinted with permission from the American Diabetes Association Inc.

WebMD Feature



Lara Rondinelli-Hamilton, RD, LDN, CDE, diabetes center coordinator, DuPage Medical Center, Chicago.

Jessica Bennett, MS, RD, LDN, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center: “Diabetes Cooking Substitutions.”

American Diabetes Association: “Using Sugar Substitutes in the Kitchen.”

Rondinelli-Hamilton, L. Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking, American Diabetes Association Inc., 2004.

© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Click to view privacy policy and trust info