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, use this 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 have 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.
- Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that does not raise blood sugar levels.
- Stevia and monk fruit extract are natural sugar-free sweeteners that are often combined with other low-calorie sweeteners to enhance their sweetness.
- Artificial sweeteners are considered "free foods." They were designed in a lab, have no calories, and do not raise your blood sugar levels.
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial low-calorie sweeteners include:
- 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.
- Advantame can be used in baked goods, soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, candies, frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings and syrups.
- Neotame (Newtame)
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 has, and 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 show 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 as you balance sweetness with good blood sugar control.