The Dessert Dilemma: Can People With Diabetes Have Dessert?

woman eyeing a piece of cake

Choosing between managing your diabetes and managing your sweet tooth doesn’t have to be a dilemma.

When it comes to managing diabetes and keeping your blood sugar in check, enjoying dessert may seem impossible. But it doesn’t have to be! With just a little planning ahead, you can still keep dessert on the menu.

You’ve heard the saying, “Life’s too short. Eat dessert first,” and with so many decadent and indulgent options, it can be tempting. Many people enjoy dessert, but living with diabetes can make indulging in your favorite treat a little more complicated.

If you have diabetes, too many carbohydrates (like those found in some of our favorite desserts) can spike your blood sugar and increase your risk of developing diabetes complications. But where’s the fun in eating if we can’t have the foods we enjoy? Many people believe that desserts are off limits if you’re living with diabetes. But that’s simply not true. With a few considerations, people with diabetes can absolutely have dessert.

If You Eat It, You Might Spike

Imagine your typical dessert. How does it look? Smell? There are a few things you might envision—something warm and gooey that smells delicious, is freshly baked or cold and creamy. Regardless of your preference, one thing most desserts have in common is their high carbohydrate content. The combination of flour, sugar, and dairy found in most high-carb desserts can contribute to blood sugar spikes, making diabetes harder to manage.

For example, a single serving of strawberry cheesecake may contain more than 30 grams of carbohydrates. Eating too many carbs in one sitting can cause blood sugar spikes, but what if you could avoid a spike altogether?

Good news! If you’re looking to enjoy your favorite dessert AND stay on top of your diabetes management, read on. These diabetes-friendly tips can help.

Count Carbs…Easy as 1-2-3

Carb counting allows you to keep track of the amount of carbs you consume throughout the day in your meals and drinks. This can help you better plan for your dessert and manage the number of carbs you’ll take in as part of your dessert or other meals.

If you take insulin before your meals, carb counting will help you determine the amount of insulin you should administer. By carb counting, you can keep track of the carbs in your desserts and adjust the rest of your carbohydrate intake accordingly. Let’s say you have that slice of the cheesecake we mentioned earlier at lunch. You could try to limit your other lunchtime carbs to allow for your dessert, and carb counting helps you do so. You could also eat a smaller portion of your dessert to cut carbs and calories.

Try to eat balanced meals that include nonstarchy vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. With the right planning, desserts can be added to this meal pattern. Having dessert with or right after a meal can help you eat a smaller amount without feeling deprived.

Choose Lower-Carb Options

Not all desserts are created equal, especially when it comes to their carbohydrate content. Aside from carb counting, you could also choose lower-carb desserts. For example, this delicious strawberry-lemon cheesecake has only 17 grams of carbohydrates. Choosing a lower-carb option allows you to literally have your cake and eat it too AND keep your diabetes management plan intact. You may also be able to use less insulin and lower your chances of spiking your blood sugar.

Make It Yourself

The only way to fully control what’s in your dessert is to make it yourself. There are a couple of tips and tricks you can use to cut down on the amount of sugar and carbs in your favorite treat.

  1. Use low-calorie or no-calorie sweeteners. Low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners don’t typically contain sugar or carbohydrates. These sweeteners can be made from aspartame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose to name a few. They provide a sweet flavor like sugar, and often a little goes a long way. If a dessert recipe calls for one cup of sugar, try substituting it with a low- or no-calorie sweetener instead. Doing so will help you get the sweet flavor you crave, minus the blood sugar spike. Just be sure to pay close attention to the sweetener’s packaging. Some sugar substitutes are much sweeter than sugar. The packaging frequently tells you how much to use in place of sugar.
  2. Use naturally occurring sweeteners. Some foods are naturally sweet and can be used to sweeten desserts. Take applesauce, for example. Try substituting the sugar in some recipes with applesauce for a “not too sweet,” more nutritious option.

Enjoy Responsibly

If you are living with diabetes, counting carbs, choosing lower-carb options, and making desserts at home can help you satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range. Moderation is key. When possible, choose whole, healthy foods and naturally occurring treats, like fresh berries and other fruits. It’s also important to note that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for all people. These tips should not replace your health care provider’s recommendations. Continue to take your diabetes medications and use insulin as directed. Taking your medications and following your meal plan can help you avoid diabetes complications and stay healthy—the sweetest deal of all.

Page last reviewed: August 1, 2022