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Sweet foods and diabetes – can people with diabetes still eat sugar?


Most people enjoy the taste of something sweet. Many foods are naturally sweet, while others have sugar, artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols added to them to make them taste better.  If you have diabetes, get to know which ingredients make food taste sweet and how they can affect your health.


What is sugar or sugars?

The word “sugars” describes the many compounds that help make our food sweet.  The sugar found in foods can be either naturally occurring (such as the sugar in fruit and milk) or added by the manufacturer (such as in cereals, candy and baked goods).

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that breaks down in the body to become a source of energy called glucose.

People with diabetes can still eat foods with sugar! However, to satisfy your sweet tooth and control blood glucose levels, it can sometimes be helpful to look for products that contain artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols.

*Remember: Diabetes is not just about sugar. If you have diabetes, it is important that you know how to spot all the sources of carbohydrate that will raise blood glucose levels, not just the sweeter stuff.


Diabetes and Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are man-made compounds that taste sweet but have very little effect on blood glucose.  This can make them very helpful in diabetes management, especially for people who crave sweet foods!

There are five artificial sweeteners allowed in Canada and each has different uses in food and drinks. Some sweeteners are added to foods by the manufacturer, such as in “diet” pop and “no sugar added” jam. Other sweeteners are only used as “table top” sweeteners, which means that they can be sprinkled on foods or added to drinks at home but not added to ready-to-eat foods by the manufacturer.

Health Canada has determined how much of each artificial sweetener is safe to consume in one day. This is called the “Acceptable Daily Intake” (ADI) and it is based on body weight. 

The chart below lists the artificial sweeteners, the Acceptable Daily Intake and how much you might find in a serving of food.



Also known as

ADI (mg/kg)

Safe amount for a 60 kg (132 lbs)  person per day

Amount contained in each Packet

Amount contained in Food

acesulfame potassium



900 mg/day

not available in packet form

20 mg in 6 sugar-free candies


Equal, Nutrasweet


2400 mg/day

15 mg in 1 tsp of Equal

125 mg in a 355 ml can of diet pop


Sugar Twin

Sweet’N Low


660 mg/day

250-264 mg/packet*

not added to foods




300 mg/day

12 mg/ tablet

not added to foods




540 mg/day

12 mg/ packet

11 mg in 125 mL of  “no sugar added” peaches













*Want to know how many packets of artificial sweetener you can have in a day? Each packet of Sweet’N Low contains 264 mg of cyclamate.  If you weigh 60 kg (132 lbs), you can add 2-3 packets of this sweetener each day to your coffee or tea.  If you weigh, 90 kg (198 lbs), you can have 990 mg of cyclamate each day, which is about 3-4 packets of Sweet’N Low per day. 


What are Sugar Alcohols?

Despite the name, sugar alcohols are not related to the alcohol you drink. Instead, they are a type of natural sugar with a different chemical structure than “regular” sugar and so are not used by the body in the same way.  People with diabetes may wish to try foods sweetened with sugar alcohols because they have less of an effect on blood glucose levels.

To spot a food that is sweetened with sugar alcohols, look for these words in the ingredient list:

  • Words that end in “ol” (polyol, maltitol, mannitol, lactitol, xylitol and sorbitol)
  • Isolmalt
  • Hydrogenated starch
  • Hydrolysates

Sugar alcohols should be used in moderation. Eating too many foods with sugar alcohols can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. A suggested safe limit is 10 g per day. The amount of sugar alcohol in the food will be listed in grams (g) on the Nutrition Facts Table.


How much sugar can people with diabetes have?

The answer to this question is different for each person. People with diabetes can still eat foods with sugar but may also want to include foods with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols to help with blood glucose control. If you have diabetes, work with a Registered Dietitian to come up with a meal plan that includes your favourite foods while still keeping you healthy.

Do you have more questions about sugar and diabetes? Call 1-877-510-510-2 to speak with an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian or send an email.

Want to know more about what happens when you call EatRight Ontario? Watch the video, What’s your Nutrition Question Today?.

Watch a short video to have a Registered Dietitian explain about nutrition labelling in more detail! Click here for Introduction to Nutrition Labelling or Focus on Carbohydrate.


For more information:

Sugar and Sweeteners, Canadian Diabetes Association

Visit the Diabetes Prevention area on the EatRight Ontario website for articles about diabetes, management, the glycemic index, label reading and more.


Copyright © Dietitians of Canada 2014. All rights reserved.

Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.