Can Diabetics Eat Sweets?

While it’s true that eating sweets does affect your blood sugar, a diet that is high in added sugar can increase the risk of diabetes. There are lots of other factors that impact diabetes developing, such as lifestyle and genetics. 

You must closely monitor the carbohydrate intake in your diet if you have diabetes or prediabetes, as these carbohydrates are the cause of increased blood sugar levels. You can still enjoy sugary treats in moderation, and it is essential to have an understanding of how they could affect your blood sugar. This applies to all sugars, including those found in sweets and desserts

Different types of sugar

If you have diabetes, your body either cannot make enough insulin or it is unable to use insulin correctly. There are some people who experience both of these problems. These problems can result in a sugar build up in your blood, as insulin is used to carry sugar from your blood to the cells in your body. 

Carbohydrates in food raise blood sugar levels, and they need to be regulated if you have diabetes to help manage your blood sugar. 

Regarding nutrition labels, ‘carbohydrates’ refers to complex carbohydrates, sugars and fibre. Many other products like desserts, yoghurts and breakfast cereals have other ingredients added to improve sweetness.

Some foods, such as vegetables and fruit, contain natural sugars but many processed foods have some form of sugar added. When looking at the label, you may find that ‘sugar’ will not be listed as an ingredient. Instead, they may list one of the following:

  • fructose
  • dextrose
  • lactose
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • sucrose
  • malt syrup
  • honey
  • white granulated sugar
  • glucose
  • agave nectar
  • maltodextrin

All of the sugar sources listed above will raise your blood sugar. They are found in many items, including sweetened cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, sports drinks, yoghurts, premade smoothies and ice cream. They are all simple sugars, which means they are digested much faster than complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables and whole grains. This means they can potentially impact your blood sugar quickly compared to other foods. 

To try and tackle the ever-growing number of people with diabetes, manufacturers have started to introduce different sources of sugar. They are natural, artificial or modified sugar substitutes that will not impact blood sugar levels as much – if at all. These ingredients may help you stick to the recommended carbohydrate consumption for the day without having a negative impact on your blood sugar. Examples:

  • natural sweeteners, e.g. Stevia
  • sugar alcohols, e.g. erythritol and xylitol

Shop-bought treats

Lots of different types of sugar alternatives appear in shop-bought sweets and desserts, and it can sometimes be challenging to conclude which will affect your blood sugar and which ones won’t. 

You must always carefully read labels on food to see what could affect your blood sugar. Here are some examples of modified sugars that may be added to desserts:

Artificial sweeteners

A synthetic substitute for sugar, artificial sweeteners include:

  • aspartame
  • acesulfame potassium
  • neotame
  • sucralose
  • saccharin

Some of these sweeteners can occasionally have an aftertaste, and some may have a damaging effect on health. For example, research indicates that some artificial sweeteners can disrupt the antioxidant/oxidant balance in the body, could disrupt the gut and may cause dysregulation of blood sugar. It is advised to avoid artificial sweeteners wherever possible.

Natural sweeteners

Natural sweeteners are frequently used as a sugar replacement in recipes and can include:

  • fruit juices
  • nectars
  • monk fruit
  • molasses
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • agave syrup 

Like all other sweeteners, those listed above can affect blood sugar. Stevia is the exception to this rule. An extract from the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, Stevia can be included in dessert recipes made at home. Some manufacturers have begun adding Stevia to their products, such as soft drinks. It is noticeably sweeter than sugar but will not increase blood sugar levels. Long term effects have yet to be determined as some of these sweeteners are new to the market. 

Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols can either be synthetically manufactured or naturally occur in nature, and, unlike artificial sweeteners, they contain calories and are not sweeter than sugar. On average, they contain 2 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram found in regular carbohydrates, meaning they will increase blood sugar levels but not quite as much as regular carbohydrates. Examples: 

  • lactitol
  • glycerol
  • maltitol
  • sorbitol
  • erythritol;
  • mannitol
  • xylitol

These can be added to prepacked foods and are labelled ‘no added sugar’ or ‘sugar-free’. 

Reading the nutritional label will give you an idea of how sweets or desserts may affect your blood sugar. The key things to watch out for are total carbohydrates, serving size, total sugars, added sugars and total calories. 

Total carbohydrates

This part of the label shows the amount of carbohydrates in a serving. If you are managing your blood sugar by counting grams of carbohydrates, there are some exceptions. You need to deduct half of the fibre total from the carbohydrate total if the fibre content exceeds 5 grams per serving. You might also have to work out the impact of sugar alcohols. You can discover the effect of sugar alcohols by deducting half the total grams from the total carbohydrates; e.g. if you have a 30g chocolate bar that contains 20g of sugar alcohols, you would need to deduct 10 from 30 to equate to 20g of carbohydrates.

Serving size

Nutritional information on labels is worked out based on the listed serving size, and it is always really important to note the serving size. You need to calculate your calorie and carbohydrate consumption based on what you plan on eating, e.g. if the serving size is 2 biscuits, but you only intend on eating 1, you will need to halve the calories and carbohydrates noted on the label. However, if you decide to eat 4 biscuits, you must double the amounts shown.

Total sugars

Total sugars shows both naturally occurring and added sugars. Foods such as dairy products and fruit contain natural sugar but may also have added sugar in the ingredients. An example of this is Greek yoghurt. A 6-ounce portion may have 5-10g of naturally occurring dairy sugar but no added sugar. However, a flavoured version may have upwards of 10g of added sugar, meaning the total sugar could exceed 20g. Be sure to look at total sugars for an insight into how they may impact your blood sugars.

Added sugars

These can include sugar added during the processing and cooking of food and do not naturally occur in the food. Many foods that we think are healthy can contain a lot of added sugar, such as bread, cereals, sauces and dressings. You should always check the label to know how much-added sugar you would be eating. For reference, 4g of sugar equals 1 tsp.

Total calories 

Calorie consumption is also essential, as lots of low sugar foods can be high in calories but low in nutritional value. Eating them in excess can lead to weight gain, which in turn makes it harder to manage blood sugar levels. 


You can still enjoy the occasional treat if you have diabetes. However, it is vital to know how certain foods will impact your blood sugar. It is important to be mindful of portion sizes and enjoy sweets and treats in moderation. You may also opt for sugar-free options, but remember that these items still contain calories and carbohydrates.