By: Gerri French
There are so many food products containing artificial and alternative sweeteners on the market today that they have become a topic of great interest among diabetic patients and health professionals.
Most diabetics will agree that today’s sugar-free products taste better, making them more appealing.
Read the Labels
Sugar-free foods may be lower in carbohydrate, but they do not always provide fewer calories. Consumers need to read the nutrition facts on product labels and should be somewhat skeptical of any claims made on the label.
Many diabetics who count carbohydrate and test their blood glucose after eating these products have discovered that some of these foods have more impact on their blood sugar than the food manufacturers suggest in their “net carb” advertisement. To calculate the “net carbs,” food manufacturers subtract the entire amount of sugar alcohol and fiber from the total carbohydrates. Some fiber ingredients are now beingadded to foods that do not usually have fiber, such as ice cream and candy to give the food the lower net carb advantage. Also, the blood glucose impact of sugar alcohols can vary widely depending upon their source and whether they are made naturally or synthetically produced. Foods that contain sugar alcohol can cause stomach distress in certain people, especially when a large portion is eaten on an empty stomach.
The American Diabetes Association recommends subtracting half the sugar alcohols and all of the fiber from the total carbohydrate, although it is always best to check your individual response to the foods you eat routinely.
It’s important to keep up to date on this topic, because new sweeteners found in natural foods that contain fewer calories and help control blood glucose are being identified, and some of them may contain unique properties that provide healthful side-benefits.
What About Sugar-Free or Low-Carb Bars and Drinks?
Busy people use these products regularly when they don’t have time to prepare or eat balanced meals, and the bars are very handy for travel. A few of the meal-replacement bars and drinks contain significant amounts of protein, fat and calories, which make them satisfying for a longer period of time. These products contain artificial sweeteners, usually with added fiber agents or “resistant starches,” such as uncooked cornstarch, which have less impact on blood glucose, help sustain blood glucose and minimize hypoglycemia. Fiber-like ingredients that can be added to food products to aid blood glucose control continue to be identified and developed.
Available Almost Everywhere
Sugar-free products are widely available in supermarkets and health food stores, although their location varies from store to store. They can also be purchased over the Internet. See the Sugar-Free Product Chart for names of some manufacturers and their Web sites.
Meal-replacement drinks and bars and low-carb bars have been added to the list of products welcomed by many in the diabetes community. These products give us pleasure without guilt, although they need to be treated with respect. They offer options for alternative meals and snacks that can benefit your blood glucose levels.
Only you and your healthcare team can determine which of these is appropriate to meet your diabetes dietary needs. As a person with diabetes, you know that meal and medication adjustments may be needed to accommodate any new product.