How much sugar should a Type 2 diabetic have a day?

For people with type 2 diabetes, limiting sugar intake is important for managing blood sugar levels. The recommended daily allowance of sugar will depend on a number of factors, including the person’s age, weight, activity level, and any medications they are taking. Most experts recommend limiting added sugars to no more than 25-50 grams per day for people with diabetes.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about daily sugar intake for type 2 diabetics:

  • The American Diabetes Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men.
  • Added sugars should make up no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake.
  • Focus on limiting added sugars from processed foods, baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, etc. Don’t worry as much about naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
  • Read nutrition labels closely to identify sources of added sugars.
  • Replace sugary foods and beverages with healthier alternatives like fruit, whole grains, and water.
  • Talk to your doctor or dietitian about an appropriate daily sugar allowance tailored to your individual health profile.

Background on Type 2 Diabetes and Sugar Intake

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. Insulin is the hormone that allows cells throughout the body to absorb and use glucose from food for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin over time.

This insulin resistance causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream rather than being absorbed by the cells. High blood glucose levels are what define diabetes. Over time, uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to serious complications like nerve damage, kidney disease, vision loss, heart disease, and stroke.

One of the primary treatments for type 2 diabetes is managing carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates found in foods like sugars, starches, and fiber are broken down into glucose during digestion. Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates tend to cause quicker and larger spikes in blood glucose levels.

By limiting sugary foods and spreading carbohydrate intake evenly throughout the day, people with diabetes can better control their blood sugar. While all carbohydrates impact blood sugar levels, added sugars are particularly concerning.

Added vs. Natural Sugars

There are two main types of sugars found in food:

  • Naturally occurring sugars – Fruits, some vegetables, milk, and milk products contain natural sugars like fructose, glucose, and lactose.
  • Added sugars – Sugars that are added during food processing or preparation like sucrose, dextrose, syrups, nectars, and sweeteners.

While both types of sugars impact blood sugar, added sugars tend to be more detrimental to diabetes management. Added sugars provide little to no nutritional value, contain extra calories, and are found in processed foods that can spike blood sugar rapidly.

For this reason, limiting added sugar intake from things like soda, candy, ice cream, cake, sweetened yogurt, sugary cereals, and other processed foods and beverages is very important for type 2 diabetics. There is less need to restrict natural sugars from whole fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Reading Nutrition Labels

To limit added sugar intake, it is essential for people with diabetes to read nutrition labels closely. Ingredients like sucrose, dextrose, maltose, dextrin, corn syrup, honey, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, brown sugar, and molasses indicate added sugars.

The nutrition label will also list total sugars in grams per serving and percent daily value. Go for foods low in sugar per serving and low percent daily values for sugars. Compare similar products and choose the option with less added sugar.

Daily Sugar Recommendations for Diabetics

There are a few evidence-based guidelines for how much added sugar people with type 2 diabetes should consume daily:

  • American Diabetes Association – Recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men.
  • American Heart Association – Advises restricting added sugars to no more than 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men.
  • US Dietary Guidelines – Recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calorie intake. For a 2000 calorie diet, this would equal 50 grams of added sugar per day.

These recommendations focus on limiting specifically added sugars, not naturally occurring sugars. Whole fruits, plain milk and yogurt, and many vegetables can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diabetes diet.

10% Daily Calories Rule

A good general guideline is to aim for added sugars to make up no more than 10% of your total daily calorie needs. This percentage takes into account your individual energy requirements based on age, sex, activity level, and other factors.

For example, if your estimated daily calorie needs are:

  • 1600 calories per day – Limit added sugars to 16 grams
  • 2000 calories per day – Limit added sugars to 50 grams
  • 2500 calories per day – Limit added sugars to 62 grams

Checking the nutrition labels for grams of added sugars per serving and restricting intake to 10% or less of your total daily calories is a good way to stay within the recommended range.

Calories from Added Sugars

Each gram of sugar contains 4 calories. So daily sugar recommendations can also be calculated by calories from added sugar rather than grams.

Based on a 2000 calorie diet, the recommended limits would be:

  • American Diabetes Association – Limit to 100 sugar calories per day (about 25 grams of sugar)
  • American Heart Association – Limit to 96 sugar calories per day (about 24 grams)
  • US Dietary Guidelines – Limit to 200 sugar calories per day (about 50 grams)

Again, determining 10% of your total daily calorie needs and limiting added sugar calories to that amount is an easy formula to follow for most people with diabetes.

How Much Sugar is in Common Foods?

Being aware of how much added sugar is found naturally in common foods and beverages can help diabetics stay within their recommended sugar limits.

Here are the grams of sugar in typical serving sizes of some common items:

Food/Drink Serving Size Grams of Sugar
Soda (regular) 12 oz can 39 grams
Fruit juice (orange) 1 cup 21 grams
Berries (strawberries) 1 cup 7 grams
Yogurt (fruit flavored) 1 cup 47 grams
Cereal (frosted flakes) 1 cup 12 grams
Cake (chocolate) 1 slice 32 grams
Cookies (chocolate chip) 2 cookies 11 grams

Beverages, sweets, sugary cereals, baked goods, and desserts tend to be very high in added sugars. Being aware of serving sizes and sugar grams can help guide food choices.

Tips for Reducing Sugar Intake

Here are some practical tips for staying within the recommended sugar limits each day with type 2 diabetes:

Avoid Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Cut out regular sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, sweet tea, and other high-sugar drinks. Switch to unsweetened iced tea, water, seltzer, or small amounts of diet soda instead. Getting calories from beverages doesn’t trigger feelings of fullness like eating solid foods.

Limit Sweets and Desserts

Treat foods like candy, cookies, cakes, pies, and ice cream as occasional indulgences rather than daily items. Focus your meals around more balanced nutrition from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, beans, and healthy fats.

Watch Your Condiments

Barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressings, and other condiments can contain a lot of added sugar. Opt for low-sugar varieties or control portions.

Enjoy Fruit in Moderation

The natural sugars in whole fruits are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar levels compared to other sugary foods. However, fruits do contain carbohydrates, so portion sizes still matter.

Check Labels for Hidden Sugars

Added sugars can turn up in unexpected places like bread, crackers, peanut butter, yogurt, cereal, canned soups, and salad dressings. Read labels carefully and opt for low-sugar alternatives when possible.

Sweeten Foods Naturally

Use small amounts of cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa, lemon, mint, or other herbs and spices to add flavor. Sweetening with non-nutritive alternatives like stevia and monk fruit can also reduce the need for real sugar.

Talk to Your Doctor

Consult your doctor or certified diabetes educator for personalized recommendations on daily carbohydrate and sugar intake based on your health profile and any medications you take.

How Sugar Intake Fits Into a Diabetes Diet

Limiting added sugars is just one aspect of healthy eating for diabetes. Overall, the optimal diabetes diet focuses on:

  • Eating on a consistent schedule with proper portion sizes
  • Limiting refined grains and starches
  • Increasing fiber intake through vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts
  • Choosing healthy fats from plant oils, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish
  • Incorporating lean protein from fish, poultry, eggs, Greek yogurt, and plant-based foods
  • Drinking water as your primary beverage
  • Checking carb counts and planning meals around your doctor’s recommendations

Paying attention to total carb intake, fiber, protein, and portion sizes is important in addition to limiting added sugars.

Sample Low Sugar Diabetes Plate

Here is an example of what a low added sugar, diabetes-friendly plate might look like:

  • 3-4 oz grilled salmon
  • 1/2 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup mixed greens salad with balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 medium apple

This meal contains around 45 grams total carbs, 4 grams being naturally occurring sugars from the apple. It provides balanced nutrition without spiking blood sugar levels.

Effects of Sugar Substitutes on Diabetes

There are a variety of non-nutritive sugar substitutes on the market marketed to people with diabetes. These include artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. There are also plant-derived sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit.

The impact of sugar substitutes on diabetes management is controversial. Here is a brief rundown of the evidence:

Artificial Sweeteners

  • Generally considered safe for diabetes if consumed in moderation
  • Do not raise blood sugar levels like real sugar does
  • May help reduce overall calorie and carb intake when substituted for sugar
  • Some concern that they promote sweet cravings that can undermine healthy eating
  • Should not be used to compensate for eating large amounts of high sugar foods


  • Extracted from the stevia plant
  • Has essentially no calories or carbs and does not raise blood sugar
  • Sweeter than sugar but aftertaste may be unpleasant to some
  • Appears safe for diabetes management, but long term effects are unknown

Monk Fruit Sweetener

  • Natural, no calorie sweetener extracted from monk fruit
  • Up to 300 times sweeter than sugar but has no effect on blood glucose
  • May help lower sugar and calorie intake
  • Safe for people with diabetes based on available research

As with any food product, moderation and monitoring individual response to different sugar substitutes is wise for people with diabetes.


Limiting added sugar intake is an important aspect of managing type 2 diabetes and reducing the risk of complications. While individual needs vary, most experts recommend keeping added sugars below 25-50 grams or under 10% of total daily calories.

Reading nutrition labels, being aware of hidden added sugars, and limiting sugary beverages, sweets, and desserts can help type 2 diabetics stay within the recommended sugar limits each day. Controlling carbohydrates, calories, and portions along with routine blood sugar monitoring is also essential for balancing blood glucose levels.

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