Navigating the dessert aisle at the grocery store can be an exercise in resisting temptation for people with diabetes.
More than 34million Americans suffer from diabetes, which occurs when the body is incapable of creating or effectively using their own insulin.
The general fixation when considering what a diabetic can safely enjoy when a craving comes on is sugar, especially the variety that is added in production, and switching sugar for asubstitute is an effective way to prevent blood sugar spikes.
But nutritionists add that the key to making healthy, insulin-friendly desserts is looking beyond just sugar content and choosing the ones that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Healthy sweets such as fruits which have naturally occurring sugars and fiber, for instance, make good snack choices. DailyMail.com got input from nutritionists on other diabetes-safe sweets.
Nutritionists say that the key to making healthy, insulin-friendly desserts is looking beyond just sugar content and choosing the ones that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats
About 10 grams of sugar per serving
Dark chocolate, a variety without added milk solids and contains 50 to 90 percent cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar, has long been extolled for its myriad health benefits.
And diabetics needn’t steer clear. High cocoa-content chocolates are often considered low glycemic foods, meaning they do not cause a sharp spike in blood sugar.
And polyphenols in chocolate, organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants, have been shown to increase insulin resistance.
This means that means cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood.
A 2017 report by Persian researchers said that studies in both animals and humans showed that polyphenols like those found in dark chocolate decrease high blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
This allows the cells of the body to use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar.
Dark chocolate has long been established for its myriad of health benefits. And diabetics needn’t steer clear, saying it does not cause a sharp spike in blood sugar
Meanwhile, a 2021 study published in the journal Appetite found that people who eat chocolate, including dark chocolate, at least once a week had a lower prevalence of diabetes and were at lower risk for diabetes four to five years later.
With these health benefits in mind, nutritionists urge diabetics looking for a sweet treat to pair it with nutritious food to strike a healthy balance.
Melissa Groves Azzaro, a New Hampshire-based nutritionist told DailyMail.com: ‘When people are craving something sweet, I do recommend pairing it with a protein and fiber.’
Skinnydipped Dark Chocolate Almonds
About six grams of sugar
‘Those are perfect examples’ of sweet snacks that strike a healthy balance with other nutrients, Ms Groves Azzaro said.
‘They’re relatively low in added sugar, they have like six grams for 10. But they also contain five grams of protein and a couple of grams of fiber from the night.
‘So those are a much more balanced snack that’s going to have way less of an impact on your blood sugar.’
Snacks containing almonds can lower diabetes risk, Indian scientists suggest.
Eating almonds can also increase insulin sensitivity, helping people with prediabetes to ward off the disease.
In addition to having a significantly lower sugar content than many other brands, the Skinnydipped-branded almonds also contain more protein, about five grams per serving compared to the usual amount of roughly two grams.
Expert diabetes nutritionist Julie Cunningham told DailyMail.com: ‘Everybody is different, but most people with type 2 diabetes can process snacks with less than 15 grams of carbohydrate with little to no effect on their blood sugar levels.
‘Sugar-free popsicles and cocoa-dusted almonds are good choices because both are low in carbs.’
About 10 grams of sugar
Munching on frozen berries – which contain fructose – has the least impact on your blood sugar making it safe for diabetics, dietitians say
It’s nearly impossible to take in too much fructose, the type of sugar in fruit, and it has the least impact on your blood sugar, making it safe for diabetics.
A cup of frozen berries also contains a healthy dose of fiber, which delays digestion.
This delay will not only help you feel more satisfied, but it will also not spike blood sugar levels as quickly as if you had consumed the fruit in juice form.
Taking in between five and 10 grams of soluble fiber every day – equal to about a cup of blackberries and blueberries – lowers LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.
Berries also pack key micronutrients such as vitamins C and A, potassium, folate, and antioxidants that can help boost the immune system.
People contending with diabetes can enliven a cup of frozen berries by blending them and pouring the blend into popsicle molds or freeze it to create a tasty fruit sorbet.
Homemade banana ice cream
About four grams of sugar
Diabetics need to be careful about their intake of carbohydrates because carbs raise their blood sugar more than any other nutrient.
But, the type of carb a person eats matters.
Bananas have plenty of carbs, but alongside those carbs is the supernutrient fiber that blunts blood sugar spikes.
Banana ice cream is made simply by freezing one or two bananas, enough for one cup, and blending them in a food processor until the mixture smooths out and takes on a creamy consistency.
An effective way to determine how a carb-heavy food will have on blood sugar is by identifying its glycemic index (GI), a value from zero to 100 assigned to foods based on how quickly and how high they cause increases in blood glucose levels.
A ripe banana, according to the International Glycemic Index Database, has a low GI score of about 51.
Riper bananas, because they are sweeter than green ones, tend to have more sugar and thus a higher GI score. But an under-ripe banana has an even lower glycemic index at about 42.
Apple slices and peanut butter
About 15 to 18 grams
Pairing apple slices with peanut butter that has little added sugar is a nutritional powerhouse.
Apples are rich in fiber to prevent spikes in blood sugar.
And while they do contain an amount of sugar that may turn wary people off, it is the naturally occurring variety that, when combined with fiber, is released slowly.
Natural peanut butter, that is, peanut butter that does not contain added sugar, is a nutrient-dense food that will not cause blood sugar to skyrocket.
It has a low glycemic index and around six grams of carbohydrates for two tablespoons.
Having apple slices topped with peanut butter is also an option for diabetics, experts suggested
Peanut butter contains roughly eight grams of protein and healthy fats, which both help maintain a steady blood glucose level.
In fact, a 2018 study by Texas researchers concluded that eating two tablespoons of peanut butter along with white bread and apple juice led to a significantly lower blood glucose spike when compared with subjects who ate white bread and juice alone.
Another study published in 2012 reported that in a group of obese women who were either given peanut butter with breakfast or not, those who had peanut butter had better control over their blood glucose levels after eating and felt satisfied for longer.
Two tablespoons of peanut butter, the recommended amount to accompany a medium-sized apple, only contains three grams of sugar while one medium apple contains roughly 15 grams of sugar.
Sugar-free fruit popsicles
Zero grams of sugar
Refreshing fruit pops without the prohibitively high sugar content seen in popular brands in grocery stores seem like a no-brainer for diabetics looking to satisfy their sweet tooth, especially in warmer months.
They can be made at home or purchased in stores with a wide variety to choose from. Popsicle brand sugar-free fruit pops are a good option.
One popsicle contains a total of 15 calories, about four carbohydrates, and zero grams of sugar.
Many types of sugar-free popsicles are made using sugar substitutes deemed safer for diabetics, such as stevia, monk fruit, and aspartame.
A small amount of it in food makes a big difference. Because products with sugar substitutes pack a sweeter punch than those made with natural sugar, it’s likely that people will feel more satisfied with the former without the guilt.
Sugar substitutes – think Equal, Sweet’N Low and Splenda – also have no calories. But the low-cal options are not perfect.
Ms Groves Azzarro said: ‘I’m always thinking about long-term health versus a short-term calorie save. And so what it’s doing is it’s getting your tastebuds accustomed to these super sweetened foods that are just going to make you crave more carbs and sugar over the long term.’
There have been some links established between the substitutes and with cardiovascular issues as well as a higher risk of stroke. They have also been linked to disruptions in the healthy gut bacteria which influence blood glucose levels and control the digestion of sugars.
A sugar free popsicle is another great way to satisfy the sweet tooth without sparking a spike in blood sugar levels
17 grams of sugar
Pears make refreshing, satisfying snacks due to naturally-occurring sugars and soluble fiber.
Pears have been a fixture in traditional Eastern medicine for their ability to quench thirst, calm the heart, alleviate restlessness, promote urination, clear heat, detoxify the body, and relieve cough.
Like apples, pears are full of fiber to aid digestion and slow down sugar absorption, helping people with type 2 diabetes maintain healthy glucose levels.
Thanks to their high fiber content – a healthy 5.5 grams – pears are low glycemic index foods with a score of about 38.
There are several studies pointing to the health benefits of pears for people with diabetes.
A 2012 study by researchers from Harvard University, the University of East Anglia in the UK, and the National University of Singapore found that people who consumed foods with a higher concentration of anthocyanins, natural pigments in certain plants that give them their purple, blue, or red color, reduced their risk of contracting type 2 diabetes.
And a 2017 meta-analysis of five different studies into the power of pears and apples to help ward off diabetes estimated that eating an apple and a pear once per week was associated with a three percent lower risk.
Chocolate hummus and strawberries
About five grams of sugar
Chocolate hummus has been growing in popularity and can now be found on shelves at WalMart and Trader Joe’s.
Like regular hummus, chocolate hummus is made of mashed-up chickpeas with additional dessert-centric ingredients such as vanilla and cocoa powder.
Chickpeas are known for their low glycemic index and high concentration of fiber.
Similarly, strawberries are known to have a whole host of nutritional benefits.
Adding dessert ingredients, though, can be a bit treacherous. That’s why nutritionists recommend that those looking for a sweet dip for their favorite berries should make the spread themselves.
Making it at home is straightforward with easy-to-access ingredients such as cocoa, avocado, chickpeas, and vanilla.
And by making it at home, one has control over the amount of sugar, fats, and calories that go into it.
Ms Groves Azzaro said: ‘Making it yourself is the healthier option, and when we’re thinking about portion sizes for chocolate hummus, it’s one tablespoon, which is a really, really small amount.’
She said people, especially those with insulin sensitivity, have to be cognizant of their portion sizes, as finishing off a tub of chocolate hummus negates the low-sugar benefit of eating the recommended amount.
Nutritionist Julie Cunningham said: ‘One tablespoon of chocolate hummus has five grams of carbs, five strawberries have 11 grams of carbs. This can be a really satisfying sweet snack as long as you keep your portion size in check.’
Meanwhile, to extend the limited serving size, Ms Groves Azzaro said: I actually recommend that when people want something like that, to take that tablespoon of the chocolate hummus and stir it into a cup of Greek yogurt,’ she added.
Halo Top light ice cream
About nine grams per serving
Halo Top ice creams debut in 2012 was a game changer. A whole pint came in at 300 to 400 calories, giving people a better alternative to full-fat ice cream
To health-conscious ice cream lovers everywhere, Halo Top’s debut in 2012 was a game-changer. A whole pint of it came to roughly 300 to 400 calories, giving people a better alternative to full-fat ice cream.
The wide array of flavors from chocolate cake batter and mint chip to caramel macchiato and red velvet give people plenty of options without feeling deprived of the real thing.
Halo Top is sweetened with stevia and another sugar substitute called erythritol, thus giving it the sweetness without the associated blood sugar spike. The company also makes products that subscribe to the keto diet.
The low-fat ice cream has twice the amount of protein as regular ice cream, a feature that helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood, making it a good choice for people with diabetes.
The vanilla flavor, for instance, has five grams of protein per half cup while the same amount of regular Breyer’s vanilla contains just two grams of protein.
With that in mind, though, nutritionists urge moderation again. The low calorie count and relatively low amount of sugar might convince people that polishing off a whole tub is ok.
Ms Groves Azzaro said: ‘I would literally see people come in and by seven Halo Tops for the week, and it’s like, you are going home and you are going to eat one of those every night.
‘So you know, it’s encouraging you to eat the whole pint instead of buying real ice cream, portioning out a serving size, and pairing it with berries and nuts, which is what I would recommend instead.’
Swiss Miss No Sugar Added
About 11 grams of sugar
The hot chocolate mix is missing the most incriminating ingredient for a person contending with type 2 diabetes – added sugar.
Hot chocolate, whether store-bought or homemade is typically loaded with sugar that would not be suitable for a diabetic.
Mixing the powder with organic, low-fat milk is a great sweet, cozy treat. Milk has plenty of carbs and fat, so switching to skim or non-dairy is recommended. Soy milk, for instance, the least carb-heavy non-dairy variety.
Nixing milk altogether in exchange for hot water is also a healthy option. In general, hot cocoa made with milk and sugar will have a more pronounced effect on blood sugar than hot cocoa made with water and sugar.