If you have diabetes , you may have been advised to monitor your sugar intake or even eliminate sugar altogether. But does this really mean that you can never eat sugar? Or is there a way to enjoy a sweet once in a while?
Here we take a look at how sugar affects blood sugar levels. Read on for tips on identifying hidden sugars, choosing higher-quality carbohydrates, and working with your healthcare provider to help you eat a proper diabetes diet.
What is a safe sugar level?
Unfortunately, Americans consume too much sugar. They don't seem to know where to draw the line, whether they have diabetes or not. A national survey published in 2016 found that American adults consumed at least 77 grams of added sugar per day on average. The children were found to have eaten a staggering 82 grams. For comparison: 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.
These numbers far exceed the daily limits recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA):
- Men : 36 g (9 teaspoons)
- Women : 24 grams (6 teaspoons)
- Children 2 to 18 years : less than 24 grams (6 teaspoons)
If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you eat less sugar than the AHA recommends. With a typical diet, you can quickly reach your sugar limit at breakfast. A cake and a couple of cups of sweetened coffee are likely to go beyond what is safe for you.
Determination of hidden sugar
It is often difficult to know how much sugar is hidden in packaged foods and beverages. Even if you read food labels rigorously, you may not know that sugar may have a different name.
Names to look out for on food labels include:
- Agave nectar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Rice syrup
Different types of sugar can affect blood sugar levels to varying degrees. Don't get hung up on the idea that "natural sugar" is inherently better for you. You can still go overboard with foods that contain natural sugars. Both natural and processed sugars break down into glucose and fructose.
- Glucose is a sugar that all cells in the body use for energy.
- Fructose can only be metabolized in the liver, which converts it to fat (triglycerides), which increases insulin resistance and stimulates insulin production. In the long term, this effect can lead to fatty liver and other complications.
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Common sources of added sugars
Cookies, sodas, jams, and sweetened breakfast cereals have a lot of added sugar. However, many "healthy" foods also contain sugar. They can even contain more sugar.
Here are some examples:
- Flavored yogurt : 26g per 6oz
- Muesli bars : 7 to 12 grams per 70 gram bar
- Jar of spaghetti sauce : 11 g per half cup
- Peanut butter : 5 g per tablespoon.
- Protein bars: 23 to 30 grams per 80 gram bar
- Salad dressing : 3 grams per tablespoon.
- Sweetened apple juice : 39 grams per 120 ounces
- Vanilla and almond milk : 14 grams per cup.
Fortunately, many of these foods contain sugar-free versions, so you can enjoy them without worry. But don't confuse the terms "low fat" with "low sugar" or "no added sugar." Low-fat foods and natural ingredients can contain sugar.
Choosing the best carbohydrates
Both complex carbohydrates (starches) and simple carbohydrates (sugar) affect blood glucose levels. There are several ways to incorporate sugar into your diet without overdoing it.
First, keep track of your daily carbohydrate intake. Choose foods with a lower glycemic index (GI) . The GI index measures the effect of various foods on blood sugar levels.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes eat low to medium GI carbohydrates, such as fresh vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fresh fruits can also be part of a diabetes-friendly diet, but they should be limited as they are high in natural sugars.
You can also look for carbohydrate foods that have less than 10 grams of sugar and more than 3 grams of fiber per serving. Look at the food label to find these numbers. The more fiber you eat, the fewer carbohydrates your body will absorb with each meal or snack.
If you have a sweet tooth, try cutting carbs out of the same meal. For example, if you want to eat a small piece of cake in the afternoon, cut the starch portion in advance. The starch can be a serving of pasta , rice, or potatoes.
Take care to keep about the same amount of carbohydrates. Swapping a slice of whole wheat bread for a huge cinnamon roll won't work.
If you like sweets, fruits like berries are also great options. Just eat whole fruits instead of drinking a large glass of fruit juice or smoothies. Even if the juice is sugar-free, the amount of sugar in the juice or smoothie can have the same glycemic effect as a can of soda.
Calculation of the daily rate
If you don't have diabetes, the AHA recommends limiting calories, including sugar, to 10% of your total calories. One gram of sugar equals 4 calories.
For a 2,000 calorie diet, this means that you can get up to 50 grams of sugar from all sources per day. It's worth noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an even lower percentage – no more than 5% of total calories from sugar.
If you have diabetes, it is important to work with your doctor to find out which one is right for you. Ask what percentage of your total daily calories should come from sugar. This will help you make adjustments if you are obese and need to cut calories, or if you are underweight and need to increase your calories.
Diabetes does not mean that you can never eat sugar again. However, this means that you need to know the hidden sugars and what percentage of your daily calories should come from sugar. This will include reading food labels, choosing carbohydrates high in fiber and low in sugar, and making informed food choices to better control your blood sugar.