Thursday, 5 August 2010

Sugar Free? Think Again

The claim: Artificial sweeteners cam raise blood sugar.

The facts: It seems like common sense that foods labelled “sugar free” would have no effect on sugar levels in the blood. But sometimes they do.

Most artificial sweeteners - saccharin, aspartame and sucralose - offer the sweetness of sugar without the calories.

They contain no carbohydrates and so have no effect on blood sugar. But these sweeteners are sometimes paired in “Sugar free” products with another sugar substitute called sugar alcohols.

Sugar alcohols get their name from their structure, which looks like a cross between a molecule of alcohol and sugar but is technically neither.

Companies have been adding them to ‘sugar free’ products, like cookies chewing gum, hard candy and chocolate.

For people trying to manage their blood sugar, this can make interpreting nutritional labels tricky.

While sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than regular sugar - in general about 1.5 to 3 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar - they can slightly raise your blood sugar.

One way to account for them is to count half the grams of sugar alcohol in a product as carbohydrates.

You can identify sugar alcohols in an ingredient list by looking for words that end with “-OL”, like sorbitol, maltitol and xylitol. In foods labelled “sugar free” or “no sugar added”, the precise sugar alcohol count is listed separately under the nutritional information.

The bottom line: Some sugar substitutes can raise blood sugar, so read the label carefully.

- The New York Times 

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