CDE Advice: Debunking Common Myths About Dessert

Published on
By : Suvarna Sheth

Having type 1 diabetes herself for the last 25 years, Holly Hackman, a clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Memorial Care Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif. has heard over and over the following from people:

“Oh you have diabetes? You can’t have that,” or, “No dessert for you,” or, “You can’t eat sugar,” all of which she says is just not true.

“There is no reason a person with diabetes can’t enjoy dessert,” Hackman says, contradicting the comments she gets time-to-time from random people. “But at the same time, it doesn’t mean you can eat dessert every day.”

According to Hackman, there are a few things to keep in mind, including portion size, how many carbohydrates the portion contains and how it will affect your blood glucose.

“Items that claim to be ‘sugar-free’ may be higher in fat,” she points out. “And ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ items may have more sugar and, therefore, more carbohydrates, so it will affect your blood glucose more.”

She indicates it really depends on the food item and the ingredients used to make the dessert. Items with more fat will affect blood glucose slower but provide a lot more calories. “If you are trying to lose weight, this may not be your best choice for a dessert,” she says.

Know the serving size

Knowing the serving size for dessert items will always be helpful. It’s important to know how much sugar and carbohydrate content is in one serving size. For example, in ½ cup of ice cream, ¼ cup of sorbet or sherbet, a 2 square inch slice of cake without frosting, 2 sandwich cookies or 5 vanilla wafers.

Hackman says popsicles tend to be all over the place and can range from 4 grams of carbs (sugar-free popsicles) to about 30 grams for larger fruit bars. She urges people to read the nutrition labels before they indulge.

Make choices based on your health goals

Always keep health goals your top priority. If you are trying to lose weight, a lower calorie dessert should be chosen, like the fruit and vegetable bars or even fresh fruit.

Frozen grapes, chocolate covered banana slices, or even frozen fruit kabobs (slice up, skewer, and freeze pineapple and melon) are great summer options as well. Whole fruit desserts will provide more vitamins and minerals your body needs and will also add some fiber, Hackman advises.

She says people with type 1 diabetes taking a meal insulin can cover the carbohydrates they eat with their mealtime insulin in order to keep their blood glucose from rising.

But, she says it’s always good to decrease your intake of sugar and saturated fat, but you also want to enjoy the dessert or it may not be worth having. Choosing something you love and limiting yourself to just one portion, or one or two carb choices (15-30 grams carbohydrate) maximum for dessert, would be a good rule to live by, she states.

How to avoid temptation of dessert when traveling, eating out, or in a social situation?

“There are definitely ways to avoid the temptation of dessert, but there are also ways to enjoy dessert without destroying your blood glucose levels,” Hackman says. “If you are traveling with a significant other or friend you may want to consider sharing a dessert or eating only half of it and saving the rest for later.”

Choosing the child-size option may be just enough to satisfy your craving and not go over your carb limit.

When it comes to social situations or eating out, consider eating less of the carbohydrates at your meal to allow room for dessert. Even if you are given a huge piece of cake at a wedding or birthday party, you don’t have to eat the whole piece, eat half or just a quarter of it.

Can someone with diabetes eat ice cream?

“Yes, a plain ½ cup of ice cream (1 scoop) is equal to 1 carb choice or 15 grams carbohydrate,” Hackman says. “Even if the ice cream says, “no sugar added,” the serving size for one carb choice is ½ cup because it is made out of milk, which contains the natural sugar, lactose.”

Hackman’s greatest advice for diabetes patients is to exercise portion control. “Read labels, don’t deny yourself a treat, especially when you have earned it,” she says.

She says one way to help prevent a huge rise in blood glucose is to take a walk or do some sort of exercise to burn calories and use up the extra carbohydrates you ingested. Go for a post-ice-cream hike or bike ride. “You could even try riding or walking to the store for dessert and you will earn it both ways,” she says.

Lastly, she says, people should explore new recipes with healthier ingredients. You can always customize recipes and their ingredients to cater to your personal tastes and goals.