The Truth About Sweets and Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 04, 2023
3 min read

Sweet treats -- like candies, pies, cakes -- were once off-limits for people with diabetes. Not anymore.

In fact, research has shown that starches like potatoes and white bread affect blood glucose levels much like sugar -- causing sometimes dangerous spikes in blood sugar. Carbohydrates found in most vegetables or whole grains don't affect blood sugar as much.

Counting carbs and choosing the healthiest of them is more important than eliminating sugar altogether. A little sweet treat is OK. If you're at a wedding, for instance, you can have a small slice of cake -- very small. Just substitute it for another starchy carb you might eat, like a small potato or a piece of bread.

If you really have a sweet tooth, choose desserts, candy, and sodas made with sugar substitutes. Many artificial sweeteners have no carbs or calories, so you don't need to count them in your meal plan. Others have carbohydrates that are absorbed into the blood more slowly than table sugar, so they don't pose a threat to your blood sugar levels.

But once you come off sugar and sweeteners for a few weeks, your body and taste buds will adapt, and you won’t need or crave as much sweetness. Fruits and other natural foods will taste sweeter and more satisfying.





Within limits, alcohol is OK. But there are exceptions. You shouldn't drink if your blood sugar levels aren't under control or if you have nerve damage from diabetes.

If you do drink, keep portions modest: up to one drink a day for women, or up to two drinks a day for men.

Remember, one serving is:

  • Five ounces of wine, or
  • 12 ounces of beer, or
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor




A high-fiber diet (more than 50 grams/day) can lower blood sugar levels. How? Your body digests fiber-rich foods slowly -- which means glucose (a form of sugar) is absorbed into the blood gradually, helping to control blood sugar levels.

You have to eat a very high-fiber diet to attain this effect.

High-fiber diets have also been shown to help lower cholesterol levels, lose weight, feel fuller, and stay regular.

Fiber-rich foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread and crackers, and bran cereal.

Always check food labels for carbohydrates and sugars. Many high-fiber foods have sugar added to them.




A high-protein diet can be a problem if you have kidney problems.

How much protein is too much? If you have kidney problems, the American Diabetes Association suggests you get just 15% to 20% of your calories from protein. And do your heart a favor: Choose protein such as beans, fish, or chicken more often than fatty cuts of meat.

If you want to lose weight, eat a balanced diet that cuts calories by 500 calories a day. You should be able to lose 10% of your body weight without putting your kidneys at risk.