If you find the thought of having diabetes and eating sugar is just as frightening as ghosts and goblins, you’re not alone. One of the greatest myths about diabetes is that sugar is a forbidden food. The not-so-scary truth is that sugar, in moderation, can be included as part of a healthy diabetes diet. But with sugar-filled Halloween treats knocking on your door this month, moderation can be difficult! Fortunately, there are many sugar alternatives that can help satisfy your sweet tooth without such a fright.


All carbohydrates, both complex and simple (like sugars), affect blood sugar. While complex carbohydrates raise blood sugar slower and simple sugars can more easily spike blood sugar, the most important factor for those with diabetes is the total amount of carbohydrate you consume. Diabetes educators agree that sugars, including white, brown, powdered, honey, syrups, molasses and fructose can all be included in your meal planning.

Sugar and Sugar Substitutes - Trick or TreatFor any healthy diet, the American Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 8 to 10 teaspoons per day of added sugars. Moreover, the added sugar content of candy, sodas, and desserts can cause you to easily exceed the recommendations of both the dietary guidelines and your carbohydrate-conscious diet. A small-sized Halloween treat bag or bar averages 2 to 3 teaspoons of added sugar (and 10 grams of carbohydrate), a single chocolate bar has 6 to 7 teaspoons (22 to 30 grams of carb), and single serving package of Skittles has whopping 11 teaspoons of sugar (45 grams of carb). In order to healthfully consume foods with sugar:

  • Keep added sugars to a minimum. Eat small portions and make it a once in a while treat.
  • Be sure to keep track of your total carbohydrates. If you must have a sugary treat, be sure to switch out other carbohydrates in your meal plan.
  • When possible, satisfy your sweet tooth without added sugar. Fresh fruit is naturally sweet and contains fiber as well as vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that are good for your health.

Sugar Alternatives

Sugar alternatives or substitutes can help offer the treat without the “trick.” For candies, gums and mints, the most commonly used substitutes are sugar alcohols. Ironically, sugar alcohols contain neither sugar nor alcohol. Produced from other carbohydrates, sugar alcohols contain fewer calories and are not digested like other sugars – resulting in less impact on your blood sugar. Some common sugar alcohols (or “-ols”) are mannitol, maltitol, erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, and isomalt.

Sugar substitutes such as sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), acesulfame potassium (Sweet One), and stevia (a food supplement) can also allow you to enjoy the sweet taste you love without the effects of sugar (as do reduced/no-calorie blends like Diabi-sweet). These sugar substitutes are used to cut back the sugar content in packaged goods and are easily recognized in supermarkets and on tabletops in their yellow, blue, and pink packaging. Whichever you choose, the FDA, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Diabetes Association consider all of them safe and effective replacements for sugar. When including any sugar alternative in your diet, remember:

  • Carbohydrates and calories still count. “No-sugar” does not mean no carbs or calories!
  • For sugar alcohols, you may subtract one-half the grams of sugar alcohol listed on the food label from the carbohydrates. (Less than 5 grams of sugar alcohol is considered “free.”)
  • Be sure to eat foods with sugar alcohols in moderation, especially until you are sure of your personal tolerance limits. GI distress and a laxative effect can occur with excessive consumption. (Extra caution should be taken with children and sugar alcohol; erythritol has the least side effects for both kids and adults.)
  • Hot and cold beverages are perfect places to switch out sugar with sugar substitutes.
  • When cooking or baking, be sure to use a “baking blend” or a sugar substitute such as sucralose (Splenda) that can withstand high temperatures.

Healthy Low Sugar Treats!

Substituting “empty” sugar calories with sugar alternatives and no-added sugar treats can make it easier to keep your diabetes diet in check. Satisfying your sweet tooth with homemade good-for-you treats is even better!

  • Halloween is a great time to enjoy my Spicy (but not scary) Pumpkin Muffins or Creamy Instant Pumpkin Mousse, both delectably low in sugar and packed with the goodness of fiber and nutrient-rich pumpkin puree.

Marlene Koch

Marlene Koch, RD, (pronounced "Cook") has specialized in delicious food and healthy lifestyles for over twenty years. Thus, when Marlene realized she couldn’t bake a delicious cake without sugar for her stepdaughter newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she set out to find the sweet solution! Marlene is now a foremost authority on sugar and sugar substitutes and the author of the best-selling healthy, low-sugar hardback cookbook series which includes Unbelievable Desserts and Fantastic Food with Splenda, and her newest release, Marlene Koch’s Sensational Splenda Recipes: 375 Recipes Low in Sugar, Fat and Calories (M.Evans publisher). With combined sales of over 600,000 copies, Marlene and her books successfully bridge the gap between good food and good health!

Marlene graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in nutrition from U.C.L.A. in 1986 and is one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the American Dietetic Association. Combining her love of food with her educational foundation, she has held such positions as Hospital Foodservice Director, Nutrition Professor, Cooking Instructor for the Columbus State Culinary Academy and as a national nutrition educator to chefs for the American Culinary Federation. Her passion for teaching others how to make healthy food taste delicious also extend to her private nutrition practice specializing in weight loss, diabetes, and wellness.

Marlene loves to teach (and to eat!); her energetic and upbeat style has made her a popular food and nutrition speaker for organizations such as the American Diabetes and American Heart Associations and sought after for television and radio appearances which have included affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and Shaw TV (Vancouver) and radio stations nationwide.

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