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The Truth About Sweets and Diabetes

11 November 2010
1. Sweets like candy and cake are off limits to people with diabetes.

The correct answer is: FALSE

Sweet indulgences -- candies, pies, cakes -- were once off-limits for people with diabetes. Not any more.

In fact, research has shown that starches like potatoes and white bread affect your 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.

So today, counting carbs and choosing the healthiest of them is more important than eliminating sugar altogether. A little sweet treat is fine. 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 white bread.

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

2. A glass of wine with dinner is fine for people with diabetes.

The correct answer is: TRUE

Within limits, of course, alcohol is fine. Experts say that women can safely have one drink a day; two drinks are fine for men.

Keep the portions small. Four ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer equals a serving. And just 1.5 ounces of hard liquor equals one serving.

But there are exceptions: People whose blood sugar levels are not under control -- or who have nerve damage from diabetes -- shouldn't drink alcohol.

3. Foods high in fiber, such as beans, can help lower your blood sugar levels.

The correct answer is: TRUE

A high fiber diet (more than 50 grams/day) has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels. How? Your body digests fiber-rich foods more slowly -- which means glucose (a form of sugar) is absorbed into your blood gradually, thereby helping to moderate your blood sugar levels.

But you have to eat a very high fiber diet to attain this effect!

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

Other fiber containing foods choices include: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread and crackers, and bran cereal. Remember, always check food labels for carbohydrates. Many high-fiber foods have sugar added to help them taste better.

4. High-protein diets are risky for some people with diabetes.

The correct answer is: TRUE

Research shows that people with kidney problems have faster loss of kidney function if they follow a high protein diet.

How much protein is too much? The American Diabetes Association suggests you eat just 15% to 20% of your calories from protein. And do your body a favor: Choose protein such as beans, fish, or chicken more often than fatty red meat. Fatty meat boosts your risk of heart disease.

If you want to lose weight, try 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.

5. Artificial sweeteners are safe alternatives for people with diabetes

The correct answer is: TRUE

With low-calorie sweeteners, you can have sweetness that tastes as good as sugar, without the extra calories.

Artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame have no calories or carbohydrates -- so they can be added to your meal plan rather than substituted for other carbs.

In fact, some new sugar substitutes -- like lactitol -- are great for baking. They have the same "bulk" that regular sugar has. Yet they have half the calories of sugar, and they don't raise blood sugar levels rapidly like sugar does.

This article was first published in http://diabetes.webmd.com on 25 February 2010.

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