Sugar Substitutes on a Diabetic Diet - dummies

By Alan L. Rubin, Cait James

Although people with diabetes are allowed to have some sugar in their diet, sugar is more appropriate for a diabetic who is at normal weight than an obese diabetic. Preventing obesity may be a matter of avoiding as little as 50 extra calories a day. If this can be accomplished by using artificial sweeteners, which provide sweetening power but no calories, so much the better.

There is no good evidence that using sugar substitutes results in significant weight loss.

Recipes calling for 1/4 cup or more of sugar are perfect opportunities to use a sugar substitute and significantly lower the calories from sugar.

Kilocalorie-containing sweeteners

Several sugars besides sucrose (table sugar) are present in food. These sugars have different properties than glucose, are taken up differently from the intestine, and raise the blood level at a slower rate or not at all if they’re not ultimately converted into glucose. They sometimes cause diarrhea.

Although these kilocalorie-containing sweeteners are sweeter than sugar, and you use them in smaller amounts, they do have calories that you must count in your daily intake.

The following sweeteners contain kilocalories but act differently in the body than sucrose:

  • Fructose, found in fruits and berries: Fructose is sweeter than table sugar and is absorbed more slowly than glucose, so it raises the glucose level more slowly. When it enters the bloodstream, it is taken up by the liver, where it is converted to glucose.

  • Xylitol, found in strawberries and raspberries: Xylitol is also sweeter than table sugar and has fewer kilocalories per gram. It is absorbed more slowly than sugar. When used in gum, for example, it reduces the occurrence of dental caries (tooth decay).

  • Sorbitol and mannitol, sugar alcohols occurring in plants: Sorbitol and mannitol are half as sweet as table sugar and have little effect on blood glucose. They change to fructose in the body.

Sweeteners without calories

This group of non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners (with the exception of Stevia, which comes from a plant) is much sweeter than table sugar and contains no calories at all. Much less of these sweeteners will provide the same level of sweetness as a larger amount of sugar. However, the taste of some of them may seem a little “off” compared to sugar or honey. They include the following:

  • Saccharin: This has 300 to 400 times the sweetening power of sugar, and it is heat stable so it can be used in baking and cooking. Brand names for saccharin are Sucaryl, SugarTwin, and Sweet’N Low.

  • Aspartame: This is more expensive than saccharin, but people often prefer its taste. It is 150 to 200 times as sweet as sugar. Equal and Sweet Mate are two of the brands. It loses its sweetening power when heated, so it can’t be used if food has to be cooked for longer than 20 minutes.

  • Acesulfame-K: This is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is heat stable, so it is used in baking and cooking.

  • Stevia: This is 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It was approved by the FDA in 2008 and marketed as Rebiana in Coca-Cola.

  • Sucralose: This sweetener, which is made from sugar, is 600 times sweeter than its parent, sucrose. The brand name is Splenda. It remains stable when heated and has become a favorite sweetener in the food industry. Because foods don’t bake the same when made with Splenda, a combination of Splenda and sugar called “Pure Magic” is sold to reduce calories while providing the baking characteristics of sugar.

Feel free to substitute calorie-free sweeteners whenever sugar is called for. The calories you save could make a big difference in your diabetes.

Contrary to opinions that you may hear or read, there is no scientific evidence that these sweeteners are associated with a higher incidence of cancer.