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I have diabetes. Can I eat snacks or desserts?

By Michelle May, M.D.

So many people with diabetes ask if they should eat snacks and whether they can have desserts. The Mindful Eating Cycle puts you in charge of these decisions.

Snacks Are Mini-Meals

Curry HummusTo begin, people with diabetes don’t necessarily need snacks. It’s helpful to think about why you would eat a snack. There are three main reasons. 

You’re hungry. When deciding whether to have a snack, first ask, “Am I hungry?® ” and determine how hungry you are to help you decide whether your body needs additional fuel. If you are hungry, rate your hunger to help you estimate how much to eat. Keep in mind, when you’re a little bit hungry, you only need a little bit of food. Therefore, a small snack, such as a piece of fruit or a yogurt with less than 20 grams of carbohydrates will do the trick. When you are hungrier, choose a larger snack, such as pairing the fruit with 1 ounce of low-fat cheese or adding 2 ounces of nuts to the yogurt. To learn more about how much to eat, please review Chapter 17 in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes.

You need more of a specific nutrient. For example, if you are a woman and you realize you would benefit from getting three servings of calcium in your diet; you might prefer not to include carbohydrates from dairy at a meal, or you are simply too full at a meal to include a calcium source like a glass of milk. In this case, you might choose to have the glass of milk or yogurt as a snack.

Snacks might be needed to prevent or treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). It is important to remember that having diabetes does not cause hypoglycemia. Individuals are at risk for developing hypoglycemia when they take certain medications and have changes in their eating or activity. Talk to your health care team to learn if you are at risk for hypoglycemia and how to treat it.

It can be helpful to remember that mindful eating is about eating with intention and attention – so the intent of eating a snack is to benefit your body. After you choose to have a snack, give eating your full attention. 

Desserts and Sweets

There’s a common misconception that eating sugar causes diabetes and that people with diabetes aren’t allowed to eat sugar. It’s true that sugar is a carbohydrate, so it will raise your glucose level – all carbohydrates do. That doesn’t make sugar “bad” and make you “bad” for liking it! In fact, telling yourself you can’t have it can lead to feelings of deprivation, craving, overeating, and guilt – the eat-repent-repeat cycle that wreaks havoc with your blood glucose.

A more helpful approach is to acknowledge that the primary purpose of eating desserts and sweets is pleasure. Again, mindful eating is about eating with intention and attention – so the intent of eating a dessert is enjoyment. It doesn’t make sense to ruin the experience with guilt, thoughts of failure, or feeling too full. Instead, if you really like them, fit sweets and desserts into your diet in moderation by counting the carbohydrates. 




About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Belinda says:

    I think you missed a great chance to inform diabetics, and the world, know that SUGAR did not cause their diabetes. I have heard on TV , Movies, articles, parents to their family saying that “If you eat that candy bar, ice cream, cereal ,etc., you will get diabetes.” Its false. More information needs to out in the public about how and why.

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