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Can Diabetics Eat Sugar?

It’s a common myth that diabetics can’t eat sugar, encouraged by the fact that many sugar free products are promoted as ‘diabetic’ such as diabetic sweets and diabetic chocolates. One of the most commonly asked questions when people are newly diagnosed with diabetes is “can diabetics eat sugar?”

The simple answer is yes, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics can eat sugar, but they need to be more aware of the amount of sugar they are eating than people without diabetes.

Diabetes and Sugar

Sugar or glucose in the food we eat is broken down by a substance called insulin so that it can be used by the body. If glucose isn’t broken down by insulin it remains in the blood leading to high blood sugar levels and causing a variety of health problems.

People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin naturally so they have to inject insulin to break down the sugar they eat. The more sugar they eat the more insulin they have to inject to compensate for it.

People with type 2 diabetes either don’t make enough insulin, or don’t use the insulin in their bodies effectively. They either have to take insulin or use other medication to control their blood sugar and this becomes more difficult if they eat a lot of sugar. People with type 2 diabetes are often overweight and eating sugar will just make this situation worse.

Including Sugar in Diabetes Diets

Just like people who do not suffer from diabetes, diabetics should not include too many sugary foods in their diets. Sugar provides no nutritional value and just provides empty calories, so it is best kept to a minimum in a healthy balanced diet.

Looking for low sugar versions of your favourite products, or using fruit to sweeten things like breakfast cereals, are great ways to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Only eating sugar in moderation is good advice for everyone whether they suffer from diabetes or not.

Are Sweeteners Better Than Sugar?

There are various types of sugar and sweeteners available:

  1. Sucroseis what we know as sugar. It increases blood sugar and is high in calories so should only be used in moderation, especially by diabetics.

  2. Fructoseis sugar naturally found in fruit. While it is healthy in fruit, it has no advantage over sucrose when added to food as a sweetener. It is still high in calories and raises blood sugar.

  3. Nutritive Sweeteners, or polyols, include sorbitol, xylitol and isomalt. They have less impact on blood sugar than sucrose and are lower in calories. However they are often found in cakes and cookies that can still cause weight gain. Excessive polyols can have a laxative effect.

  4. Non Nutritive Sweetenersinclude aspartame, saccharin and sucratose. These have virtually no calories and don’t affect blood sugar levels at all. They are often found in foods advertised as diabetic, or sugar free.

When do Diabetics Need Sugar?

Sometimes type 1 diabetics, or type 2 diabetics that are insulin dependent, experience low blood sugar. This is often caused by overestimating the amount of insulin they need to take for the food they are eating, or due to strenuous exercise which can reduce blood sugar.

When a diabetic experiences low blood sugar, a sugary snack is often the best way to resolve it. Many diabetics carry glucose tablets or similar sources of sugar for these occasions.


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