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Ask the Dietitian: Can People with Type 2 Diabetes Still Eat Dessert?

Diet and Nutrition

August 03, 2022

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Collage design by Ryan Hamsher

Collage design by Ryan Hamsher

by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

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Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE

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by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE

•••••

•••••

Dear Jillian,

I’ve been told to “avoid all sweets” in order to manage my blood sugar levels. Is that true? Can I never have dessert again?

— Bezzy Type 2 Diabetes Member

If you have type 2 diabetes, you’re probably used to getting unsolicited dietary advice from friends, family, and even acquaintances, which can be both frustrating and confusing.

Plus, advice from medical professionals like dietitians can run the gamut — from avoiding any and all sugar to an “all foods fit” mentality. This may leave you unsure of how to manage your blood sugar levels while still enjoying the foods you love.

Fortunately, you can still enjoy your favorite foods from time to time — including desserts — while keeping your blood sugar within range.

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Why following a healthy diet is so important for those with type 2 diabetes

Blood sugar is impacted by the foods you eat. Carbohydrates primarily affect blood sugar, though fat and protein have an effect as well.

Rapidly digested carbs like white bread, sugary beverages, cake, and candy are associated with poor blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes because these foods and beverages promote a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.

It’s important to limit carb sources that quickly spike blood sugar levels. Instead, choose carbs that have a more favorable effect on blood sugar, like carbs that are high in fiber.

People with diabetes should also be aware of total carbohydrate intake, as post-meal blood sugar levels depend on the total carb count of the meal ingested, too.

So, does this mean that you have to avoid all sweets, like desserts?

Not exactly.

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Taking a more balanced approach to dietary management of diabetes

Of course, it’s a good idea for people with type 2 diabetes to limit sugary desserts and foods and beverages that are high in rapidly digested carbs, such as bagels and juice.

But it’s also possible for people with type 2 diabetes to enjoy their favorite desserts from time to time while following a blood sugar-friendly diet, even if the dessert isn’t “diabetes-friendly.”

When it comes to diet and diabetes management, it’s key to understand that the entirety of your diet matters most when it comes to promoting healthy blood sugar control.

This is why it’s much more important to focus on following a primarily nutrient-dense diet while still leaving room for the foods you love.

In general, a diet higher in protein and fiber that’s rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods is helpful for people with type 2 diabetes. Research shows that many different dietary patterns can be effective for managing type 2 diabetes, including low carb diets and plant-based diets.

No matter the overall dietary pattern you choose to follow, it’s best to consume mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and legumes. These foods provide your body with the nutrients it needs to support optimal health.

Even though food is a source of fuel and nourishment for the body, not all foods are meant to be healthy, and that’s OK! Food is a source of pleasure and comfort. It’s an important part of social connection, especially favorite foods like desserts.

While it’s important to limit desserts and other sugary foods, you don’t have to completely cut them out of your diet in order to promote healthy blood sugar management.

Do people with type 2 diabetes have to avoid all desserts?

Nope! People with type 2 diabetes can enjoy their favorite desserts here and there, though it’s important to limit sugary foods in general.

Desserts and other sweets shouldn’t make up a significant amount of your daily intake as this can lead to poor blood sugar control and increase your risk of other health issues like fatty liver.

So, how can you enjoy desserts while still maintaining healthy glycemic control?

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Tips for satisfying a sweet tooth while managing T2D

Here are a few tips to help you satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping your blood sugar in mind.

Don’t stress

As mentioned above, food can be a source of pleasure and is meant to be enjoyed. You shouldn’t feel guilty or “bad” for eating a sweet treat.

Instead of stressing out about whether or not you can or should enjoy dessert, take a step back and look at the big picture. A single piece of cake or an ice cream cone isn’t going to significantly impact your health or your long-term blood sugar control.

Enjoy your dessert and understand that it’s just one very small component of your daily intake. Remember, it’s your overall diet that matters most.

Focus on overall diet quality

Instead of concentrating on small parts of your diet like an occasional dessert, focus on improving your diet as a whole.

Is your diet high in sugary foods and beverages? Consider cutting back on your total added sugar intake.

Do you regularly include whole, nutrient-dense foods high in protein and fiber at most meals and snacks? If not, try making changes to one meal at a time to improve your overall nutrient intake.

Are you consuming an appropriate amount of calories based on your body weight and weight goals? If you’re not sure how many calories you should be consuming per day or are having a hard time losing weight, consider working with a registered dietitian.

When you think about it, desserts generally make up a fraction of your total daily calorie intake.

Try looking at your diet as a whole and think about how you can improve it, whether it’s adding in healthy foods or cutting back on foods that may be negatively impacting your health.

It’s just dessert!

Even though it’s important to limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks, there are ways to enjoy dessert while maintaining healthy blood sugar control.

  • Choose smaller portions: Even a small portion of ice cream or chocolate can be immensely satisfying and will have less of an impact on blood sugar compared to larger portion sizes.
  • Try out some lower sugar, higher protein options: There are many delicious recipes that are low in added sugar and high in protein and fiber. Check them out in the section below.
  • Avoid overeating “diabetes-friendly” treats: Instead of munching on handfuls of sugar-free cookies every night even though you really want a regular chocolate chip cookie or a piece of chocolate, have a small amount of the real thing once or twice a week. Often, foods labeled as “sugar-free” still contain sugar alcohols, which can raise your blood sugar.
  • Make sure you’re fueling your body properly: Many people undereat during the day and find themselves overeating sweets at night. If you keep yourself properly fueled throughout the day, it could help reduce sweet cravings and overeating in the evening.
  • Experiment in the kitchen: It’s easy to reduce sugar and overall carbs in your favorite desserts by swapping some ingredients. For example, monk fruit can help reduce the overall sugar content of a recipe. Trading white flour for almond flour can bump up a dessert’s fiber and protein content.

Low sugar dessert ideas

If you’re interested in cutting back on your overall added sugar and carb intake, but want to enjoy a sweet treat now and then, check out these desserts that are much lower in sugar than traditional sweets.

In addition to creating your own low sugar desserts at home, it’s now easier than ever to find low sugar dessert options at the store. Simple Mills and Lankanto offer low sugar baking mixes, while Lesser Evil and High Key offer ready-to-eat treats like cookies.

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The bottom line

Even though following a healthy diet is critical for healthy blood sugar management, people with type 2 diabetes can still enjoy their favorite desserts on occasion.

It’s best to focus on improving your diet as a whole by consuming mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods that support healthy blood sugar levels. Try to look at the bigger picture rather than focusing on a single, small component of your calorie intake.

Medically reviewed on August 03, 2022

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About the author

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Jillian Kubala is a registered dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. She runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

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