Artificial Sweeteners and Diabetes
Is it possible to eat sweets when you have diabetes? The answer is "yes." But when you’re trying to satisfy your sweet tooth, it can be hard to know what to reach for at the grocery store (sugar-free this or low-calorie that). So, we’ve got a primer to help you choose wisely.
The Sweet Facts
When you’re comparing sweeteners, keep these things in mind:
Sugars are naturally occurring carbohydrates. These include brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioners’ sugar, fructose, honey, and molasses. They contain calories and raise your blood glucose levels (the level of sugar in your blood).
Reduced-calorie sweeteners are sugar alcohols. You might know these by names like isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. You'll often find them in sugar-free candy and gum. They have about half the calories of sugars and can raise your blood sugar levels, although not as much as other carbohydrates.
Low-calorie sweeteners are artificial. This means they were created in a lab rather than found naturally. Low-calorie sweeteners are considered "free foods." They have no calories and do not raise your blood sugar levels.
The Best Artificial Sweeteners for People With Diabetes
The FDA has approved the following low-calorie sweeteners for people with diabetes, and the American Diabetes Association also recommends them.
Saccharin (Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin). You can use it in both hot and cold foods. Avoid this sweetener if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal). You can use it in both cold and warm foods. It may lose some sweetness at high temperatures. People who have a condition called phenylketonuria should avoid this sweetener.
Acesulfame potassium or ace-K (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett). You can use it in both cold and hot foods, including in baking and cooking.
Sucralose (Splenda). You can use it in hot and cold foods, including in baking and cooking. Processed foods often contain it.
Read Between the Lines
Use this "cheat sheet" to identify which products are sweetened the way you want them.
No sugar or sugar-free. The product does not contain sugar at all, though it may contain sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners.
No added sugar. During processing, no extra sugar was added. However, the original source might have contained sugar, such as fructose in fruit juice. Additional sweeteners such as sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners also might have been added.
Dietetic. The product may have reduced calories, but this word can mean a lot of things.
When in Doubt, Read the Nutrition Label
To know for sure what kind of sweetener a food product contains, check the Nutrition Facts label. In the Carbohydrate section, you can see how many carbohydrates the product contains. You can also see how much of these carbohydrates are in the form of sugar or sugar alcohol.
For even more nutrition information, read the Ingredients list. It should indicate any added sweeteners, whether they are sugars, sugar alcohols, or artificial.
By understanding more about artificial sweeteners and diabetes, you will be able to make better food choices. Artificial sweeteners give you another strategy to help you balance pleasure from eating with good blood sugar control.