How to treat your favorite diabetic, on Valentine's Day and beyond

A single perfect chocolate truffle

This is my second year of being a type 2 diabetic - my surgeries and other cancer treatments having somehow pushed me over the edge from the prediabetic range. Although diabetes is a very widespread disease (more than 100 million Americans are diagnosed with type 2 or pre-diabetes, a staggering number), many people have no idea what it's like to live with it, and how diabetics keep it under control. Yes, us diabetics do have to be careful about our sugar intake, or anything that makes our blood glucose levels spike. But for most of us, unless we are at a very serious stage of the illness, manage to live with it pretty well.

What gets to me more sometimes is the way people react when I tell them I have diabetes. Too many times I've had people look at me with eyes full of pity, saying things like "Oh, you can't have anything nice to eat anymore". And yeah, having this diet or another pushed at you constantly isn't so fun either. Holiday times are particularly hard for a diabetic, since everything and everyone wants to push sugary snacks at you, from 12 days of Christmas Cookies to chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies. But somehow Valentine's Day is especially difficult, since it's become closely associated with chocolate gifts and sweet things in general.

So, for those of you who have diabetics in your life, here is how I, as one of them, would like you to treat us, on Valentine's Day or the rest of the year. Take it with a grain of um, sugar.

Please don't pity us

Believe it or not, most of us don't feel as if our lives are over because we can't indulge in a big box of chocolates, or a plateful of cookies, or three slices of cake, or whatever our furtive sugar-loaded indulgence used to be. Most of us have adjusted to the need to watch our sugar intake and monitor our blood glucose levels, and we're pretty fine with it.

We don't really need the lectures and well-meaning advice

Most people who get diagnosed with diabetes and want to live a normal life take a lot of time gathering information about how to handle their condition. We are, in most cases, far more informed than you. We know about the importance of exercise and diet and all that. So, while you may mean well, we really don't want to hear your unsolicited advice, thanks. In particular, if we look overweight to you chances are we're working on that already and we don't need to hear how we should lose that weight. (And not all diabetics are overweight either.)

A small amount of sugar is not going to kill us instantly

Some people seem to have this idea that sugar is instant poison to a diabetic, and that if if a diabetic ingests sugar they'll keel over instantly while foaming at the mouth. Some of this may be blamed on the portrayals on TV and in movies of people going into diabetic shock or comas, but this only happens rarely, and mostly in cases where the person does now know they have diabetes or just hasn't been taking care of it. (My own father went into a diabetic coma several years ago, mainly because he wasn't taking his medications or watching his diet at all. He was fine for many years after that until his health deteriorated again, again due to not taking care of himself properly after his 2nd divorce.) If your favorite diabetic says they are going to have a couple of mouthfuls of cake, they are most likely going to be fine afterwards, as long as they don't make it a daily thing.

Don't assume that white sugar is the only culprit

Sugar is not the only thing that is bad for us. Any carbohydrate, especially the 'simple' or refined kind, can make our blood glucose levels rise rapidly and to dangerous levels. By refined carbs I mean things like white rice, potatoes, white flour products like bread, pasta, and so on. So, giving us cookies that are baked with a sugar substitute but use lots of white flour is well-meaning but not that helpful. (And we don't even know what the long-term health consequences are of ingesting large amounts of artificial sweeteners anyway.) In addition honey, corn syrup, maple syrup and agave nectar/syrup are all high in sugar, even if they aren't called 'sugar' and some people like to tell you that they are 'healthy'. (Agave syrup does have a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, but is still a sugar.) So are things like preserves and jams and many chutneys.

Dried fruit is high in sugar, and fresh fruit is iffy

Once I was reading one of the crowdsourced advice-giving sites about 'treats' to give to diabetics, and someone recommended dried fruit. Um, no. Dried fruit is a pretty concentrated source of sugar, and some commercial dried fruits have been sweetened with additional sugar. Even fresh fruits have to be taken in moderation by us, so a big fruit basket which has to be consumed within a short time is not such a good idea. (Fruit juice, even the "100% juice" kind, is basically water with sugar plus a few vitamins and none of the fiber of whole fruit, so it tends to make the blood glucose levels zip up as fast as drinking non-diet soda.)

Edible gifts for diabetics

So what edible gifts can you safely give to your favorite diabetic? In general, think quality, not quantity. Here are some things I wouldn't mind getting myself.

  • Nuts are great - no sugar or starch, fill of fiber, plus they satisfy that urge to have something crunchy to snack on instead of potato chips and Doritos. Good nuts tend to be expensive to boot, so they are a welcome treat.
  • There are now an increasing number of pretty tasty, low or no-sugar chocolates that are certified as safe for diabetics available. Some of these are pretty good. (Switzerland, where people consume tons of chocolate, has quite a few good diabetic-friendly chocolate bars. If you find yourself in Switzerland and you're diabetic, look for the ones marked "ohne Zucker/sans sucre".)
  • Some no-sugar candies are quite good too. Do some research to see what's available.
  • Sweet baked goods made specifically for diabetics can be ok, although some are pretty awful.
  • Many people who have their blood sugar under control can indulge in the occasional sugary treat, in moderation. If your favorite diabetic is in this position (ask first), get them a small, exquisite quantity of the best you can afford, such as a tiny box of the best handmade chocolate truffles or pralines available in your town, or one perfect home baked cookie. In our town (admittedly it is in France, and yes the French are rather good with confectionery) we can get the most gorgeous chocolates made by a Meilleur Ouvrier de France chocolatier. They cost 2 to 4 euros (US $2.60 to $5.70 or so) per piece. We can get a big box of mass manufactured chocolates at the supermarket for around 8 euro, but for the decadent diabetic the top end expensive stuff will bring much more joy in each precious mouthful.
  • While I nixed the idea of a big fruit basket, small quantities of really great fruit would be much appreciated, especially if it's something exotic and expensive.
  • And there's nothing wrong with savory gifts either, even if they are not the expected thing. I remember those 'gift basket' catalogs places like Hickory Farms that used to arrive in the mail, usually around holiday time. Amongst the fruit and petit fours and cheese balls and such, they always had something called summer sausage. Growing up in Japan, England and around New York City, I've never had a summer sausage and have no idea what it tastes like, but it sure did sound delicious. Anyway, gifting a big sausage to your sweetie may send a provocative message, but if she or he likes it, why not? Other 'safe' savory foods include things like cheeses, hams (try not to get the ones with sugar glaze) and beef jerky (again, for for the ones without a lot of sweet marinade/sauce).

...and of course, we love non-edible gifts

Chocolates and sweets aren't the only Valentine's Day gifts. Flowers are nice of course, and so is jewelry. Or how about a beautiful book, a lovely scarf, or taking us away on a great vacation? In other words, there are plenty of ways to treat your honey without making them dangerously sweet.

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I think you would love summer sausage. They are cured, smoked sausages that you slice and eat with cheese/crackers (I like using it as the cracker for the cheese) You may be able to find something similar from a German sausage maker.

Hi, congrats for this fabulous article, it´s very complete and gives interesting advices for diabetic people, and perhaps, you are demystifying some foods that people thought were not suitable for diabetics. Type 2 diabetes is a very common disease, so we should be alert for its prevention.



I always had the same curiosity about summer sausage! I finally got to taste one after I married and we spent Christmas with my in-laws. Pretty good sliced up with cheese! :)

I am not a diabetic, but my husband got me a luxurious box of diabetic chocolates from Hotel Chocolat (UK). It was a real treat :)

I have been reading your blog(s) since late 2010 after I returned from one of the most amazing trips of my life - two weeks in Japan for work! - and I was dying to find traditional recipes and ideas for bentos. I loved eating bentos on those gorgeous shinkansen trains going to and from work events. I had to ferret out your book from a tiny Japanese grocer in Washington DC and I held onto it like the willy wonka golden ticket! I am finally commenting because I think I missed the posts about you becoming diabetic. I was diagnosed less than a year ago and I want to thank you so very much for this post. I think I might just print it our and carry it around with me. I can shush people with it. Thanks for everything you share from bentos to cancer to diabetes and back! So glad you are doing better.

I'm not diabetic, but I'm very sensitive to sugar so I'm always on the lookout for ways to indulge without getting into the whole sugar spike-crash cycle. My boss once told me how she uses a lot of almond flour when she bakes, so her diabetic (type 1) son can still eat her baked goodies. Depending on the recipe, she replaces half to all of the wheat flour with almond and reduces the sugar to lower the glycemic index. It makes a moist, crumbly dough. Someone else in my lab brought in a wheat free garbanzo bean chocolate cake that used cooked, blended garbanzo beans to hold everything together -- very dense and rich, but not as dense as you might think.

Thank you Maki!

As I Type 2 myself. You covered all the bases. Though from what I've been told by my doctor, as with everything else. Moderation is the key.

But. Fresh is better then dried or juice. Despite the sugar content of fresh you're also getting fiber and other minerals verses the juice or dried.

Thank you for the thoughts as well. I can toss these ideas at my beloved for me.

Among the fruits, berries have a relatively low glycemic index. I eat a couple of ounces per day of blueberries, with my endocrinologist's blessing (in fact, it was her suggestion).

Thank you Maki.
I think this is great not only for diabetics, but anyone watching their food intake and trying to stay on a healthy eating pattern.

Also, wanted to take this time to say Thank you for all the yummy articles. It's wonderful to read about things Japanese, etc. And your articles from your cancer treatment was most touching. Love all your articles.

Best wishes to continued health!

I make a Chocolate creme (recipe at it is a riff on Giada De Laurentis expresso cream an the most fabulous chocolate mousse I had years ago in Cannes.

Great post! My best friend is diabetic (Type 1) and manages it well with a pump. She loves good food and prefers to have a small amount of chocolate/cookies/etc. rather than to have sugarfree items/artificial sweeteners. So always ask! (She's also vegetarian and hates fake meat, haha.)

I'm with your friend myself - I prefer to have like one (or two) outstanding mouthfuls of artisanal chocolate than a whole bar of mass produced 'diabetic' chocolate. ^_^

I once bought my brother (who is not a big sweets fan) a block of pate I shaped into a heart. He loved it!
I often make valentines though, either actual cards featuring a dachshund or a small knitted item, like a bookmark or knitted heart.

Hi Maki,

I haven't written since you were in Switzerland. I, too, am a type 2. As mentioned above, your post is very complete and you can see that you really studied up on it. Can you give me some links? I basically looked up low GI foods on the Web and I bought a diabetes cookbook for some recipes but my doctor tells me just to eat and drink (I like my wine) in moderation and avoid fats and sugar. By the way, Coop has some mean sugar free chocolate -- unfortunately, I stopped buying it since I scarfe down the whole lot in one go!

I hope you are feeling better. You went through a hard time. I am also going through a hard time physically (which I am sure affects the mental). Don't come to Switzerland since there is a virus epidemic - I'm on my third bout with the flu (luckily the stomach flu only lasts a couple of days but this on goes on for a month).

I'm still painting by the way. You can check it out at

Hi Roanne! Great to hear from you! I'm so sorry you're suffering from the flu. I agree with you about that Coop sugar-free chocolate - it's almsot better than a lot of regular chocolate bars. Fortunately or unfortunately the diabetic chocolate in France is not nearly as good.

My doctors have just told me to eat in moderation and watch calories and so on too. I have some Japanese cookbooks that teach how to cook for diabetes with low-GI/sugar count foods, and I also found this site ( very helpful early on, just to get an idea of how to eat and the importance of moderate exercise (mainly walking) and so on to manage type 2. In my case I had some bumps along the road due to getting cancer and stuff, so it's an ongoing battle (but not too bad really). has some great tools for eating healthy with diabetes, as well as a user group of people with diabetes who share diet and exercise concerns.

I am a diabetic who controls through diet, which makes it harder to make sweet choices sometimes. I try to get in about 20-28 grams of carb a meal, spread throughout the day. I have learned that you have to really watch with the sugar free chocolate treats. If, like me you really have to watch, look for ones not made with maltitol or maltitol syrup. Maltitol syrup is commonly sold as suagar-free, which it is, BUT it is only 75% as sweet as sugar, and goes into your system about 75% as fast as sugar, so it has a high glycemic index. Look more for the splenda, isomalt or mannitol sweeteners. Or if you want some chocolate and want to take the time I find that if you take an 70 to 85% dark chocolate, sweetened with a little truvia works great. or even just that dark of a chocolate. There are some good sugar-free truffle recipes out there too that I have tried.

I was happy to see the comment on maltitol and maltitol syrup, isomalt, and mannitol sweeteners. THESE CAN CAUSE SEVERE GASTRIC DISTRESS IN SOME PEOPLE. Please read your labels carefully and approach these with caution. Test your tolerance with small quantities. I have had to stick with *Splenda or *Truvia (Stevia extract)even though long term effects are not known. Although this severely limits what is store bought, It's a quality of life issue. Let's face it, no one "gets out of here alive" so lets make everyday your happiest.

SDSd As Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, every couple is eagerly waiting to present their partner with best gifts. I always proffered to give different types of chocolate for my lover. Since diabetes is associated with intake of more sugar, I am always concerned about derma microneedle roller reviews giving this gift. This resolution has really saved me. KSDHSAmda