Sugar Alcohols and Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar alcohols are often promoted as being sugar alternatives, but products containing them are never “free” foods. Sorbitol and mannitol (and others that end in “ol”) are either absorbed more slowly or poorly absorbed to some extent (thus reducing their GI value), but they still contain almost the same amount of carbohydrate or GL.

Sorbitol is often used as a sugar substitute in candy products such as “sugarless” gummy snacks, and except for taking longer to metabolize, the carbohydrate effects are similar to those of white sugar and with equivalent calories. (Incidentally, the malabsorbed part of most sugar alcohols has a laxative effect, so if you eat as much as 10 grams of sorbitol or mannitol at one sitting, make sure a bathroom is nearby.)

Similarly, lactilol, an altered form of milk sugar found in products such as Hershey’s “sugar-free” dark chocolate candy bars, is neither truly sugarless nor calorie free. Its calorie content is equal to that of their regular chocolate bars, and a similar number of carbohydrates will eventually be absorbed, albeit more slowly. A slower rate of absorption may help control your diabetes better, but be careful not to overeat such “sugar-free” foods just because you mistakenly believe that they don’t contain as many grams of carbohydrate or calories.

Try out some artificial sweeteners instead. When artificial sweeteners are used in diet soft drinks, flavored waters, ice cream, and many other products, the calorie content from the replaced added sugars may be substantially reduced or completely eliminated. These low-calorie sweeteners truly are “free” foods because they make food taste sweet without adding calories or affecting BG levels, and in meal planning, they do not count as a carbohydrate, fat, or any other exchange.

A number of artificial sweeteners have been approved for use by the FDA and likewise endorsed by the ADA. They currently include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and tagatose, although new sugar substitutes are being tested and approved all the time. The most popular one currently on the market, a relative newcomer named sucralose (marketed as Splenda), has already largely replaced aspartame (NutraSweet) in many products. Some people are sensitive to NutraSweet and have negative reactions such as headache or stomach upset when they consume it. If that is the case for you, try Splenda or another sugar substitute instead.

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