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Type 2 Diabetes Diet Alert: Sugar is Everywhere

Paulette McMillan
Paulette McMillan

If you’re following a type 2 diabetes diet, avoiding sugar may be tougher than you think. Added sugar is everywhere in our diets, from beverages to condiments. In fact, 74% of all packaged foods in your local supermarket contain added sugars. Eating sugar stimulates cravings for sweets and promotes overeating. This is a very real health hazard and one we shouldn’t ignore.

Overconsumption of added sugars is associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. In fact, one study showed that consuming as little as one 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened beverage per day was associated with an increased death risk due to heart disease. 

This is not to be taken lightly, since one in four people will die from heart disease—and people with type 2 diabetes are the most vulnerable. The good news is you can prevent the ravages of excess sugar consumption by learning how to set an upper limit on your type 2 diabetes diet.

How Much Sugar Can You Eat?

The American Heart Association recommends an upper limit for added sugar of 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men. In contrast, the average American consumes about 75 grams of added sugar per day depending on caloric intake, and adolescents can easily consume more than 100 grams per day.  

Where is all this sugar coming from? The major source of sugar in the American diet is sweetened beverages, closely followed by breakfast cereals, dairy, and candy. For example, one Grande Frappuccino from Starbucks or a 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi give you 69 grams of sugar, each. Plus, most sweetened beverages, including energy drinks and sports drinks, will easily contain more than 25 grams of sugar per individual bottle or can.  

Besides beverages, other sources of added sugar in commercial foods include breakfast cereals and bars, sweetened instant oatmeal, pasta sauce, salad dressings, protein bars, dried cranberries, sweetened dried fruit, creamers, milk substitutes and many condiments such as barbecue sauce, marinades, and catsup. And, of course, desserts are a major source of sugar—whether it’s baked goods, ice cream, or candy. 

Is there a safe amount of sugar to eat in a type 2 diabetes diet? Although there is debate as to which sugar is most harmful, all sugars in excess contribute to disease, including high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, agave, honey, syrups, sugar free jam, and coconut sugar. 

Reducing Sugar in Your Type 2 Diabetes Diet

  • Get “Label Savvy”: Read the labels on your most frequently consumed foods and substitute with a similar product without sugar. For example, the average pasta sauce contains around 8 grams of sugar per ½ cup. Instead, choose one without added sugar such as Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomato.  On this particular label, it will state 3 grams of sugar per serving; however, this sugar is not added. How do you know?  Look at the ingredient list and if you don’t see sugar, it is not added. 
  • Switch to Smart Beverages: If you are addicted to sweetened beverages, gradually decrease the amount you’re drinking until you can substitute with sparkling water with a splash of juice, or herbal teas (iced or hot). I don’t recommend diet beverages, as newer research suggests artificial sweeteners disrupt sugar regulation. However, if you need a sweet beverage, try one with stevia, such as Zevia sodas. For a caffeine fix, experiment with iced coffee or tea, and add milk and/or cinnamon for a sense of sweetness.  
  • Know the Restaurant Traps: When dining out, be aware that the following foods may have added sugar: tomato sauces, salad dressings, catsup, spreads on sandwiches and burgers, coleslaw, sweet-n-sour sauce, mixed drinks, and desserts. Better yet, look up your favorite restaurants online for more accurate nutrition information.
  • Grab the Right Snacks: For snacks, many people reach for sweets, protein bars or other packaged foods. Choose real food instead. Some quick and easy snacks include: fresh fruit, cheese, nut butters, nuts, seeds, dried fruit without added sugars, plain yogurt, organic meat sticks, hummus, guacamole with raw vegetables, and nut butter on carrots or apple slices.
  • Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with a Smoothie: If you’re craving sweets, make a smoothie. They can be made with fruit alone or add plain yogurt or milk. Experiment by adding cocoa powder, nuts or nut butters (without added sugar). Tip: Bananas provide natural sweetness. Buy bananas, let them ripen, peel, and place in the freezer for future smoothies. 
  • End Your Meal with a Healthy Dessert: In keeping with the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, reach for fresh or dried fruits for dessert. If you’re a chocolate lover, a small piece of good quality dark chocolate is a win.  

Now that you know the upper limit on your sugar intake for a type 2 diabetes diet, track your added sugar intake over the next week and see how you compare and adjust as needed. You will be rewarded with improved health, better mood, more energy, and a smaller waistline

10 Secrets to Beat High Blood Sugar and Diabetes

It’s never too late! These proven tips can help you get off the “sugary slope” and keep your blood sugar balanced, for good. (You won’t believe secret #6!)

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