For most people, candy and desserts are sweet indulgences to be enjoyed anytime. But for those with diabetes, the sugary temptations can make them sick, very sick.
This can be especially difficult for the parents of children with diabetes. They constantly have to monitor what their child is eating, especially during the holidays, when treats seem to be everywhere.
"It takes over your life," says Joyce Mason of Glen Arm, whose 9-year-old son, Tyler, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was 2. "You don't have a child with diabetes. You become a family with diabetes."
When Mason and her husband, Dave, had a difficult time finding sugar-free products for Tyler, they came up with a solution. They opened the 1 Stop Sugarless Shop in Dundalk four years ago to accommodate the dietary needs of diabetics and others monitoring their sugar intake.
Finally, no more looking all over town for sugar-free candy canes or other treats for their son. Now, the Masons offer more than 700 products -- from condiments to cheesecakes -- at the small sweet shop at 700 Merritt Blvd. in Dundalk.
"This is the first place I've seen that is strictly sugar-free," says Dennis Murphy of Baltimore, a diabetic and self-described "sugar junkie" who visited the store recently. "It has the sugar-free wafers that I like and couldn't find anywhere else."
There are two types of diabetes: type I, also known as juvenile diabetes, and type II, known as adult-onset diabetes. Type II diabetes is more common and seems to be linked to diet and a lack of exercise.
People with type I diabetes do not produce enough insulin and must monitor their blood sugar levels and take insulin to control them. Imbalances can cause blindness, damage to blood vessels and even death.
After being diagnosed with the disease that affects an estimated 10.7 million, diabetics often have to re-evaluate their eating habits. "You may have to cut out different foods or limit them," says Magda Galindo, a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association. "You have to [eat] in an orderly and strict fashion."
Galindo recommends consulting a nutritionist for guidelines. Treatment also may involve exercise and medication.
To control his diabetes, Tyler, an active, blond, blue-eyed fourth-grader at Kingsville Elementary School, relies on daily shots of insulin in addition to eliminating sugar from his diet. He also is the unofficial taste tester for many of the products sold in his parents' shop.
His mother keeps a large bowl filled with sugar-free candy on the kitchen counter of their home for such sampling. Tyler's favorite is chocolate.
The testing is important because the family wants to avoid selling sugar-free foods that leave an aftertaste.
"You don't want to put it on the stand and have it taste bad, and with sugar-free, that can happen," says John Jacobs, Joyce Mason's brother, who manages the store while the Masons work at other jobs. Dave Mason is a supervisor at a contracting plant and Mrs. Mason works in quality assurance for the federal government.
Jacobs also operates the store's Web site, www.sugarlessshop.com, where cyberspace customers can order items.
He says the Internet connection provides about 40 percent of the business, with regular shipments going to such countries as Denmark, Hong Kong and South America.
But one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Masons' business venture is closer to home -- their son, Tyler. He never has to worry about running out of a favorite sugar-free treat.
"Dad just picks it up," Tyler says happily.
The 1 Stop Sugarless Shop at 700 Merritt Blvd. in Dundalk is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. Web site: www.sugarlessshop.com.