How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day Can a Diabetic Have?

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A wooden spoon filled with white sugar spills onto a table in front of sugar cubes.
A wooden spoon filled with white sugar spills onto a table in front of sugar cubes. (Image: HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images)

It may surprise you to know that with the exception of sugary beverages, the recommended sugar intake guidelines are the same for people with and without diabetes. Sugar is a form of carbohydrate your body uses for energy, and compared to other food components, carbs have the greatest impact on your blood glucose level. Learn about the types of sugar in your diet and what to choose to best manage your condition.

The Deal With Sugar

Carbohydrates consist of sugars, starches and fiber, and regardless of the type, your body converts them to blood glucose. In the past, the dietary approach to diabetes focused on eliminating sugar because experts thought it caused blood glucose to rise too high. However, subsequent research found that the total amount, rather than the type of carb you eat, has more of an impact on your blood sugar. For this reason, the current approach is to control the total amount of carbs, regardless of the type, at each meal.

Natural Versus Added Sugar

While the goal is to focus on the total amount of carbs you eat, this doesn't give you a green card to eat excess sugar. Get sugars and other types of carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and dairy, according to the American Diabetes Association. These foods contain naturally occurring sugars, and as whole foods, they provide useful nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin D and minerals. On the other hand, sugar that is added to foods has no nutritional value and is typically added to nutritionally imbalanced foods. Natural sugar has a place in your diet. For example, the sugar in fruit provides a quick source of energy to replenish you after exercise.

Added Sugar Guidelines

The recommended amount of added sugar for people with or without diabetes is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men, according to the American Heart Association. This amount equals 100 to 150 calories, or 25 and 37.5 grams. The American Diabetes Association also recommends that people with diabetes limit or avoid sugary beverages because they're heavy in calories, increasing the risk of weight gain, and are high in rapidly absorbed sugars, which negatively affect triglycerides -- a type of fat in your blood. Because having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, it's best to reduce other risk factors such as weight gain and high cholesterol.

Controlling Carbohydrates and Added Sugars

Counting carbohydrates is a way to control the amount of carbs you eat each day. Having 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal works well for most people, according to the ADA. To include sweets in your meal, compensate so you stay within the 45- to 60-gram range -- or the range recommended by your dietitian. For example, if you're having a meal with bread, half a potato, grilled chicken and asparagus, and you want to have two cookies, swap out one of the carbs -- the bread or the potato -- so you don't go over 60 grams. The goal is to keep your meal balanced. To best control your diabetes, save desserts and other sweets for special occasions.

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