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Yes, There Are Ways to Eat Dessert Safely with Diabetes

By Constance Brown-Riggs

By knowing your body and counting carbs, people with diabetes can eat sweets in moderation. Nutritionist and educator Constance Brown-Riggs shares her strategies for making dessert part of a healthy diet.

Many people believe that if you have diabetes, desserts are off-limits. But having diabetes doesn't have to mean deprivation – not if you take the right approach. Small amounts of sweets can be included in a healthy diet, even if you have diabetes. But be aware that most of the calories in cakes, pies, and cookies come from carbohydrates and fat (and often from unhealthy saturated fat and trans-fat). As a nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist, I’m sharing my strategies for enjoying dessert while reducing carbohydrate and fat intake.

If you choose to have dessert, it's a good idea to start with counting carbs. Many people with diabetes find they can better manage their glucose levels if they count how many carbohydrates are in the foods they eat. If you take insulin, counting carbs can also help you determine how much insulin to take before a meal. Most adults with diabetes work with a healthcare professional to determine a carb budget, or how many carbs per meal is right for your body. Some people aim for 30 grams of carbohydrate per meal, while others aim as high as 60 grams per meal – though fewer carbs can better help keep blood glucose in range. However, no one-size-fits-all or standard amount of carbohydrate will work for everyone with diabetes. Checking your glucose two hours after eating a meal can help you determine what works for your body and how much carbohydrates affect you. While limiting carbs (and dessert) may help you manage your glucose more easily, this can be a difficult process – wherever you are on your diabetes journey, I have strategies to help you navigate sweets.

If you are planning on eating dessert, be sure to keep within your carb budget by eating those sweets instead of other starch, fruit, or milk in your diet; I recommend eating the dessert with your meal, rather than on its own. If you've had several days of high glucose readings, it's probably not the best time to have dessert. Use caution when choosing low-fat or fat-free desserts: they often have more total carbohydrates. And on the occasions when you do choose to eat dessert, be careful to limit sweets to one serving per day.

Many of the ingredients used to make desserts can be healthy, and in the right combinations, can make delicious low-carb desserts. Especially during the holiday season, apples, cranberries, pumpkin, pecans, sweet potatoes, and yogurt can be the secret to enjoying a wonderful dessert. Here are some ways you can make dessert part of your healthy diet.

Apples

Now you may be saying, "I thought apples were a high carb fruit that people with diabetes should avoid." No, you don't have to avoid apples. The key to successfully eating apples is portion control.

Apples are packed with nutrients and considered one of nature's sweeteners. When you roast fruit, natural flavor and aroma are enhanced. Think about the difference between a fresh apple and a baked apple.

  • Instead of apple pie with 45 carbs per slice, try a serving of apple crisp with just: 170 calories, 26 grams of carbohydrate, and 7 grams of fat.

  • Even better, enjoy a delicious apple. One small (4oz) apple has 60 calories and just 15 grams of carbohydrate.

  • Instead of using pie crust (to cut back on total carbs), place the apples and other pie ingredients in an individual-sized soufflé dish and then bake and enjoy.

Cranberries

Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin E. They're also a strong source of plant-based compounds that can help prevent urinary tract infections.

  • Instead of cranberry sauce with dinner, save your carbs for this cranberry rice pudding. Don't worry – it won't break your carb budget, with 131 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrate and less than one gram of fat.

  • Rather have cranberries with dinner? Make your own cranberry relish using fresh, whole cranberries instead of canned jellied cranberry sauce (which is loaded with added sugar).

Pumpkin

Pumpkins are loaded with beta-carotene, an important substance found in plants that our bodies convert to Vitamin A. Research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and offer protection against heart disease.

  • Instead of a slice of pumpkin pie with 35 grams of carbohydrate, enjoy these wholesome chocolate-chip pumpkin bars with only 15 grams of carbohydrate and 4 grams of fat.

  • If pumpkin pie is still on the menu, you can reduce the calories, fat, and carbs by removing the crust and using egg substitute and evaporated skim milk. As with any dessert, you can also opt for a smaller portion to help manage carbohydrate and sugar intake.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are brimming with vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and beta-carotene. With a low glycemic index (GI), sweet potatoes raise your glucose slowly, and research suggests they may reduce both hyperglycemia after meals (postprandial) and insulin resistance in people with diabetes.

  • Instead of sweet potato pie, enjoy this spiced sweet potato casserole recipe. You'll be glad you did. It has the same great taste as traditional sweet potato pie with only 10 grams of carbohydrate and 7 grams of fat per serving.

  • If you have no plans to pass up a slice of sweet potato pie, be mindful it will set you back 35 grams of carbohydrate.

Yogurt

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, evidence shows that the intake of milk and milk products, such as yogurt, is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure in adults. Most yogurts are also an excellent source of high-quality protein, and regular consumption of yogurt is associated with a more balanced diet.

  • To reduce fat and calories, swap things like butter, heavy cream, or vegetable oil for equal parts of plain yogurt when baking. Replace 1 cup buttermilk with 2/3 cup of plain yogurt.

  • Jazz up plain yogurt with pecans sprinkled with cinnamon. If plain yogurt isn't your thing, you can add your favorite sugar substitute.

  • Instead of strawberry cheesecake, save on carbs and fat with a strawberry cheesecake yogurt parfait: 220 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrate and 7 grams of fat.

  •  For more, read diaTribe's "Tips for Choosing the Best Yogurt for Your Health."

Click here to read more about nutrition and diabetes.

About Constance

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RDN, CDCES, CDN, is a national speaker and author of the award-winning Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World, a convenient guide to help people with diabetes enjoy all the flavors of the world while still following a healthy meal plan, and The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes. Learn more about Constance and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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