So you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, and you’re told to watch your sugar intake by your doctor. It is a common misconception that sugar alone will raise your blood sugar and lead to the development or worsening of diabetes. In reality, all carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar, but all carbohydrates, including sugar, are permitted in a diabetic diet.
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The preferred energy source for your brain and muscles is sugar. Sugar is a form of carbohydrate that includes more than just the white, sandy granules you pour into your morning coffee. All carbohydrates are broken down into sugar when they are digested, and they contribute to the overall concentration of sugar in your blood. Therefore, it is more important to monitor the total number of grams of carbohydrates you consume rather than sugar alone. When looking at "Nutrition Facts" labels, notice that both sugar and fiber are listed indented underneath the boldfaced word "Carbohydrates." This is because both sugar and fiber are types of carbohydrates and are already included in the total.
Added Sugar Vs. Natural Sugar
The type of carbohydrate that is easily broken down and digested by your body is referred to as sugar. Some sugar occurs naturally in foods, while other sugar is added to foods to give them a sweeter taste. Foods with naturally occurring sugar include milk, fruit and starchy vegetables like winter squash, peas, corn and potatoes. Although these foods provide sugar, they also provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. The sugar they contain is not added. Identify foods with added sugar by examining the nutrition facts label. Added sugars are listed with the ingredients under names like sucrose, corn syrup and raw sugar. Although all sugar contributes to a rise in blood sugar and must be considered in your total carbohydrate intake, it is better to consume foods with no added sugar for maximum health benefits.
Added Sugar Recommendations
It is wise to keep your intake of added sugar to a minimum. Added sugar contributes extra calories to your diet with no nutritional benefit. The major sources of added sugar in Americans’ diets are sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, dairy-based desserts and candy. The average American consuming 2,000 calories per day ingests 79 grams of added sugar per day -- equaling 316 calories and 15.8 percent of total calorie intake. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume fewer than 100 calories, or 25 grams, of added sugars per day and that men consume fewer than 150 calories, or 37.5 grams, of added sugars per day.
Recommended Total Carbohydrates
Your body needs a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrate per day for survival. According to the Institute of Medicine, the acceptable amount of carbohydrate for you to consume is 45 percent to 65 percent of your total calorie intake. The standard recommendation for carbohydrate intake for adult women with diabetes is 45 to 60 grams of total carbohydrates per meal, and for adult men with diabetes 60 to 75 grams of total carbohydrates per meal. At snacks, aim for 15 to 30 grams of total carbohydrates. Each person’s individual carbohydrate needs will vary based on body size, activity levels and age. Speak with your doctor, diabetes educator or registered dietitian for more personalized recommendations.
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Carbohydrates
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Table 5-1. Eating Pattern Comparison: Usual U.S. Intake, Mediterranean, DASH, and USDA Food Patterns, Average Daily Intake at or Adjusted to a 2,000 Calorie Level
- American Heart Association: Sugar and Carbohydrates
- McGraw Hill Higher Education: Chapter 8 Nutrition: Recommended Carbohydrate Intake
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Carbohydrates
- Indian Health Service: Carbohydrate Counting: Basic to Advanced