| Feb 12, 2010

Foods that are sugar free, no sugar added, or low carb, typically have the sugar replaced with sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols have a significantly diminished impact on blood sugar levels as compared to regular sugar because they are incompletely absorbed into the blood stream from the small intestine. They also have fewer calories than sugar, and are not as sweet as sugar. Some common sugar alcohols are: glycol, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and lactitol. The simplest sugar alcohol, ethylene glycol, is the sweet but notoriously toxic chemical used in antifreeze. Sugar alcohol is typically derived from fruits and vegetables.



Caloric content (kcal/g)  

Sweetness per
caloric content

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No Sugar Added Foods

What this means is that no sugar was added to the product, but it probably already contains some natural sugar. No sugar added ice cream, for example, has milk and the natural milk sugar lactose already in it. A sugar alcohol will replace the processed sugar that is usually found in ice cream.

Sugar Free Foods

Sugar free foods may not contain sugar, but they do contain carbohydrates that turn into sugar. A sugar free muffin, for example, is not made with sugar, but the flour (a starch) that it is made with breaks down into sugar. The regular sugar is replaced with sugar alcohol and, typically, artificial sweeteners to enhance sweetness.  Therefore, the slower digestion of the flour is what raises your blood sugar levels, as opposed to an immediate spike from regular sugar. So you will still see a rise in blood sugar even though you ate a sugar free muffin.

Low Carbohydrate Foods

Low carb foods have fewer carbohydrates and therefore less sugar as well. They usually have a slow-digesting sugar alcohol instead of quick-digesting regular sugar so there will be less of a rise in blood sugar levels.

What is Stevia?

Stevia is a genus of herbs and shrubs in the same family as sunflowers, and is native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana, for example, are 30 to 45 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar, and have been used for centuries in some South American countries as a sweetener in yerba mate and medicinal teas for treating various ailments.

Steviol (notice the "-ol" ending, which indicates an alcohol) glycosides are the essential component of stevia's sweetness.

Now What?

Eating sugar free, no sugar added, or low carb foods is better for maintaining blood sugar levels. You may also help to slow the digestion of a regular sugar by eating the food item combined with a healthy protein and/or fat. For example, putting nuts on your ice cream can slow down the absoption process. And who doesn't like adding a little crunch to your ice cream?

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Categories: Blood Sugar, Desserts, Food, Sugar & Sweeteners

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Posted by jprice60 on 15 February 2010

We need more info concerning the intake of sugar alcohol. I have heard that it is even worse than eating fudge with sugar (as an example). While this article was interesting, we need more comprehensive info before I started eating products with sugar alocohol as a substitue. My last A1c with Januvia was 5.7. I stay away from "sugar free" products. I buy nothing without reading the carbs first. And, I buy absolutely nothing that is white (bread, rice, etc.).

Posted by Anonymous on 16 February 2010

I have quit using all artificial sweeteners for two years now. Being diabetic for the past 23 years, I was previously a very high user of all things "sugar free". I thought I was doing myself a favor by avoiding foods with real sugar. Since stopping all things with artificial sweeteners, I have actually actually improved my glucose control. I have an insulin pump with continuous glucose sensor and could see the actual spike when still using foods artificially sweetened, and there is hardly any difference in glucose spike. Also the intestinal gassy problems went away; coincidence? That is a major side effect of maltitol, sorbitol, all the "tols", but not many people know that. Stop using these products for a week and see how good you really feel. Why set yourself up for future problems from the unknown effects artificial sweeeteners. I don't miss them at all :)

Posted by Anonymous on 15 March 2010

Stevia plants are awesome. I saw some at a farmer's market two years ago, and the vendor said "Go ahead, taste one!" The leaves are just so incredibly tasty, mild, and sweet, and had very little flavor of their own. They didn't taste like grass or hops or much of anything, just sweet like beet or cane sugar. I hope I find someone selling the plants again this year... that time, I saw the vendor after I'd already spent what I'd budgeted for on other things. (Not too far from the vendor selling mint plants of at least a couple of dozen flavors... oh my! I had no idea you could grow chocolate mint ... or pineapple, orange, basil, and so many other flavors and scents, other than spearmint and the common type!)

I wish the author of this piece had included the information for stevia/steviol in the chart. Arabitol is there and it's not even used as a common sweetener. Stevia and Rebaudioside A (yes, I had to look up the spelling!) is perfect for diabetics or anyone on a low-calorie or low-carbohydrate diet. It tastes even better than sucralose to me, and to my diabetic relatives. I hope now that it has GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status like erythritol and sucromalt (another excellent, widely-used, low-glycemic choice not listed in the chart. It's used in the Glucerna meal replacement drinks, for example) that it will get picked up and get a little less expensive... it's pretty pricey right now.

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