Diabetes: Your Questions Answered

You’re wondering what to cook, when to snack or what forms of sugar are better than others? Our in-house dietitian has got you covered.

1 / How many carbohydrates should I eat every meal?

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the carbohydrate needs are relatively the same. In general, the ideal is 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal for women, and 60 to 75 grams for men. A treatment that involves several doses of insulin allows for a wider range because the doses can be modified depending on how many carbohydrates you’ve consumed. Other medications allow for less flexibility and require sticking to a prescribed food plan. If you’re diabetic and unsure about the amount, book an appointment with a dietitian—it’s her role to develop a plan that works for you.

2 / What's a tip for caclculating the carbohydrate content in food? 

With prepared foods, it’s easy: Simply consult the nutrition facts table on the label, keeping in mind that portion sizes vary. If you don’t have it on hand or want to calculate the values for a favourite recipe, there are some nifty tools at your disposal. Try eaTracker, created by the Dietitians of Canada. Enter your ingredients and amounts, and the website and free app calculate the carbohydrates and fibre per portion—super handy! The Canadian Nutrient File from Health Canada is also a search engine that connects you to the nutritional values of almost 6,000 food products. You can download the Nutrients Canada app for $3.49.

3 / What foods lower blood sugar?

None, unfortunately. Foods that contain fibre and protein (like legumes and nuts) can slow down blood sugar spikes, though, which is why they play a critical role in effectively managing diabetes. Tip: If you’re not sure, measure your blood sugar a full two hours after eating.

4 / Can I drink alcohol? 

Absolutely, unless your doctor says otherwise. Of course, the standard guidelines apply: Experts suggest that women stick to a maximum of two drinks per day and 10 per week, while men can indulge in up to three drinks per day and 15 per week. That being said, remember that alcohol can have a hypoglycemic effect as it can inhibit the liver’s ability to release glucose in the blood. People taking insulin or their secretagogues (a medicine that stimulates insulin secretion) are at a greater risk of hypoglycemia. If that’s you, pair your alcohol with food to reduce your risk. Also, avoid drinking on days when you’re engaged in physical activity as you’re more vulnerable to a blood sugar crash.

5 / What's a good snack to stabilize blood sugar overnight?

Choose snacks that contain both carbohydrates and protein to keep your blood sugar from yo-yoing. Protein is especially important overnight as it helps prevent hypoglycemia. Try these go-tos: Fruit and a glass of soy milk, or crackers and a piece of cheese. If you suffer from hypoglycemia during the night despite snacking, talk to your health-care professional for alternative strategies.

6 / What's the difference between sugar and carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They include starches, sugars (natural or added) and fibres. Hence, sugar is just a type of carb. Carbohydrates are an important part of any diet—even if you’re diabetic—as they are one of the body’s main sources of energy.

Pro tips for coping with hypoglycemia

1 › Try not to raid your pantry! This could result in a pendulum swing into hyperglycemia and, in the mid- to long-term, weight gain.

2 › For quick treatment, avoid foods that contain fat or fibre, neither of which are effective in treating hypoglycemia.

3 › Make it a habit to always have a stash of sugar or snacks with you.

7 / What's the best type of sugar to use when cooking and baking?

Trick question! While some sugars (like agave or maple syrup) cause blood sugar to rise slightly less quickly than others, I wouldn’t recommend modifying recipes for two reasons: First, these sugars won’t “train” a diabetic’s palate to desire less sugar. Second, in the end, all sugars contain about the same amount of carbohydrates.

8 / What do you think of stevia and other sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose?

Stevia is a plant-based product that is 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so only a pinch is needed to get that sweet flavour (to see how your body reacts, test your blood sugar often). As for other sugar substitutes (aspartame, sucralose, etc.), Health Canada recommends consuming them in moderation. The upside it that they won’t make your blood sugar spike, but the downside is that they will continue to feed that sweet tooth.

9 / What foods can treat hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is defined as a blood glucose level that falls below 4.0 mmol/L. The only way to boost blood sugar levels is by consuming fast-acting carbohydrates. Of course, not just anything will do; here are some recommended foods.

If your blood sugar is between 2.8 mmol/L and 4.0 mmol/L, you should consume 15 g of easily absorbed carbohydrates. For example:

  • ¾ cup (180 ml) fruit drink or regular soda
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar dissolved in water (3 packets)

If your blood sugar is less than 2.8 mmol/L,you need to consume 20 g of easily absorbed carbohydrates. For example:

  • 1 cup (250 ml) orange juice or regular soda
  • 4 tsp (20 ml) honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
  • 4 tsp (20 ml) sugar dissolved in water (4 packets)

Wait 15 minutes after ingestion to measure blood sugar again. If it’s still under the 4.0 mmol/L mark, start the process over again. If you don’t plan on eating a snack or meal within the hour that follows, eat 15 g of carbohydrates with a source of protein to help level off your blood sugar. Good options include a serving of yogurt with nuts, an apple with cheese or a piece of toast with peanut butter. You can also find specially conceived glucose drinks and pills in drugstores. If you’re taking acarbose (Glucobay®)—used to help lower blood glucose in type 2 diabetics—you’ll have to treat hypoglycemia with three glucose caplets, 1 tbsp (15 ml) honey or 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) milk.

10 / What about diet soft drinks?

Diabetics can drink these in moderation because despite tasting sweet, they don’t affect blood sugar levels. But the acidity of soda can damage teeth and bones, so replacing it with unsweetened tea or carbonated water with sliced citrus or mint is a good way to stay hydrated—diabetic or not!


Type 1 diabeties, or juvenile diabeties, addects about 10 percent of diabetics. It occurs when the cells in the pancreas, which secrete insulin, are destroyed by the body's immune system so the pancreas can no longer regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is currently the only available treatment. Type 2 diabetes is most common in adults and is characterized by a decrease in insulin production and/or an increase in resistance. It is ofter accompanied by exces weight.

Sarah Lalanne