What About Sugar-Free Foods?
As a person with diabetes, you may think that you have to completely eliminate sugary foods from your diet. That’s what people with diabetes were told in the past, because these foods were thought to raise blood sugar levels. Although foods high in sugar often aren’t the best nutritional choices, you can usually have them, but in moderation. The main problem with these foods isn’t just the sugar. Instead, the issue is that they often have a lot of carbohydrate packed into a small serving.
In an effort to avoid sugar, many people turn to sugar-free foods. You might assume that as long as a food is labeled as sugar-free, it’s good for your diabetes. That’s not necessarily true, however, because some sugar-free foods contain calories or carbohydrates. Too many carbohydrates can make your blood sugar rise. Too many calories may cause you to gain weight, which can make your diabetes harder to control.
Types of Sugar Substitutes
Some sugar substitutes are artificial, and some are naturally-derived. The following are some of the most commonly used types:
- Sugar alcohols: While these technically aren’t sugar, they’re high in carbohydrate. Sorbitol and xylitol are two commonly used sugar alcohols. Food manufacturers aren’t required to list these on the labels, but they sometimes do. You can find sugar alcohols in the ingredients by looking for words that end in “ol.”
- Artificial sweeteners: These are free of carbohydrates and calories and include aspartame (used in Equal® and NutraSweet®), saccharin (used in Sweet’N Low®), and sucralose (used in Splenda®).
- Naturally-derived sweeteners: Stevia extracts (used in Truvia®) have no carbohydrates or calories.
How to Make the Best Choice
To find out how much carbohydrate is contained in a food, read the Nutrition Facts Label. It will show the amount of total carbohydrate in one serving of the food. This includes added sugars as well as naturally occurring sugars. For example, a sugar-free yogurt will still contain carbohydrate grams from the milk used to make yogurt, and the fruit that it contains. Just make sure to read how a serving is calculated. Most people tend to think that a serving is larger than it actually is.
How to Use Sugar-Free Foods
Sugar-free foods can be used in a variety of ways if you have diabetes. Artificial sweeteners, for example, are used in diet sodas or can be added to tea that you make at home.
When you’re shopping, compare sugar-free foods to regular products. The sugar-free version can sometimes—but not always—be the better choice. Compare the grams of carbohydrates in each version. If the sugar-free food has fewer carbohydrates, it’s the better choice. But if both are about equal, choose the one you like the best.
Are They Safe?
Although some people have expressed concern over the safety of artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes, the Food and Drug Administration says that they’re safe. Sugar alcohols can cause bloating and diarrhea, especially if they’re eaten in large amounts. You may sometimes see this warning on products that contain sugar alcohols.
Sugar-free or regular foods?
Sugar-free foods can have a useful place in your diet if you have diabetes. Just make sure that you’re checking the label for carbohydrates and making the best choice based on this number. Don’t always assume that just because a food is sugar-free, it’s the best option. These foods may even contain more fat than usual; it’s a method manufacturers sometimes use to improve the flavor.
Making the best dietary choices can sometimes be confusing, especially if you have diabetes. Meeting with a registered dietitian or diabetes educator can help you understand how to make the best food choices for your health.