By Sherri Shafer

For decades, people with diabetes were told not to eat sugar. Avoiding sugar won’t automatically keep blood-glucose levels in range if there are no controls on the overall carb intake. Skipping the cookie doesn’t erase the carbs in the rest of the meal. Managing carbs for diabetes means all carbs in the meal need to be accounted for, not just the dessert.

Certainly, having diabetes makes it very important to limit sweets, treats, and desserts. Sugar is concentrated in carbs, and desserts can easily blow the carb budget. For example, at a popular restaurant the flan had over 120 grams of carb per serving. Another dessert on the menu had nearly 200 grams of carb! To put that in perspective, a cup of white granulated sugar has 200 grams of carb. Nobody with diabetes is going to tolerate a dessert like that. That particular dessert had more than 1,200 calories, making it an unhealthy choice for anyone, with or without diabetes!

Estimating carbs in desserts can be tricky. Some can be deceptively high in carbs, while others may not have as much as you’d think. If you underestimate the carbs in the dessert, your blood glucose goes sailing. On the other hand, if you overestimate the carb counts and end up taking too much insulin, you can end up with hypoglycemia.

Making your own treats

One option for having dessert when you have diabetes is to make your own goodies. When baking treats at home, you can closely estimate carb counts in your recipes. For ingredients that contain carbs, use the Nutrition Facts food labels on the package. If you don’t have access to the package or you buy in bulk, simply look up the item online. Check CalorieKing or use your search engine to look up individual ingredients.

You can then calculate the amount of carb per serving in your homemade desserts (or any recipes for that matter). Tally up the amount of carb in each ingredient in the recipe. Consider these ingredients in a cookie recipe: One cup of white flour has 92 grams of carb, and one cup of white granulated sugar has 200 grams of carb. The butter, eggs, baking soda, vanilla, and salt don’t have any carbs. Figure out how many carbs are in one cookie by dividing the total carbohydrate count by the number of cookies baked. When baking at home, you can make the recipe healthier by cutting down on the sugar and fat in the recipe. You can also find recipes that incorporate sugar substitutes by looking online.

Dressing up healthy fruits

Fruits are naturally sweet and satisfying, and they are a healthy alternative to dessert. Here are some tips for making outstanding fruits stand out:

  • Make fruit kabobs by skewering cubes of cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, pineapple, and grapes.
  • Impress your guests with a fruit salad melon boat. Cut a watermelon in half and use a melon ball tool to scoop out the flesh, leaving the hollowed empty shell. Refill the empty shell with a colorful mixed fresh-fruit salad. The melon shell is the serving bowl.
  • Bake apples instead of an apple pie. Core the apples, leaving enough of the core at the base of the apple to hold the filling. Fill each apple with 1 teaspoon of butter or margarine, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar or agave nectar, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon of minced pecans or walnuts. Place the apples upright in a baking dish with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour or until desired tenderness.
  • Freeze grapes for a refreshing treat.
  • Melt dark chocolate in the microwave. Dip fresh strawberries into the melted chocolate and then refrigerate until the chocolate is firm. You can do the same with banana chunks, sprinkling them with minced nuts.
  • Use a glass parfait dish or a wine glass to layer fresh berries and nonfat yogurt. Sprinkle the top with a tablespoon of granola.
  • Make sugar-free gelatin and mix in sliced fresh fruit. Refrigerate until firm. Serve with whipped topping (optional).

Enjoying dessert while controlling the carbs

Desserts can be high in calories, fats, and carbs. Choices matter, and portion control is important. Here are a few tips for enjoying dessert and controlling the impact it has on your health:

  • Sharing: When in restaurants, consider ordering one dessert for the table and sharing it. If the restaurant is a chain, ask your server or the manager for the nutrition information so you can look up the carb and calorie counts. Another option for chain restaurants is to check their website for the nutrition facts. The website is usually easy to locate by the restaurant’s name.
  • Stocking the best bets at home: Fudgsicles are low-fat frozen delights. They contain about 40 calories, 10 grams of carb, and 1 gram of fat. Pudding cups are also appropriately portioned. Buy yogurt in tubes and freeze them. Cut the end of the yogurt tube and squeeze from below for a yogurt push-up. Sugar-free gelatin is virtually free of calories and carbs, so you can have it anytime. If you do buy ice cream, consider frozen yogurt or the lower-calorie ice creams. Read the Nutrition Facts labels to compare calories, carbs, and fats. Limit your serving to one scoop.

Don’t stock up on treats at home if they are too tempting and you can’t control portions.

  • Maintaining carb control at mealtime to make room for dessert: Maintaining control of blood-glucose levels is easier if dessert is consumed after a lower-carb meal. For example, if your meal is a salad with greens, vegetables, and protein, you have more room in the carb budget to enjoy a dessert.
  • Having your cake and eating it too: A thin slice of angel food cake with a couple of sliced strawberries and a spritz of light whipped cream is far lower in carbs than your typical frosted cake. If you’re celebrating a special occasion that calls for cake to be served, you can opt to go mini. Boutique cupcake stores and even big-box supermarkets offer mini cupcakes, or you can buy mini muffin tins and make your own. The trick is eating just one. You can also use mini muffin tins to make mini banana bread or zucchini bread muffins that don’t require any frosting. Cake pops are another alternative to a full-sized cake. Cake pops are cake balls on a stick, similar to lollipops.
  • Walking it off: Adding some extra exercise after consuming dessert helps burn off some of the glucose in your blood. Exercising regularly improves overall health and assists in weight management.