Foods that are sugar free, no sugar added, or low carb, typically have the sugar replaced with sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols have a significantly diminished impact on blood sugar levels as compared to regular sugar because they are incompletely absorbed into the blood stream from the small intestine. They also have fewer calories than sugar, and are not as sweet as sugar. Some common sugar alcohols are: glycol, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and lactitol. The simplest sugar alcohol, ethylene glycol, is the sweet but notoriously toxic chemical used in antifreeze. Sugar alcohol is typically derived from fruits and vegetables.
Caloric content (kcal/g)
No Sugar Added Foods
What this means is that no sugar was added to the product, but it probably already contains some natural sugar. No sugar added ice cream, for example, has milk and the natural milk sugar lactose already in it. A sugar alcohol will replace the processed sugar that is usually found in ice cream.
Sugar Free Foods
Sugar free foods may not contain sugar, but they do contain carbohydrates that turn into sugar. A sugar free muffin, for example, is not made with sugar, but the flour (a starch) that it is made with breaks down into sugar. The regular sugar is replaced with sugar alcohol and, typically, artificial sweeteners to enhance sweetness. Therefore, the slower digestion of the flour is what raises your blood sugar levels, as opposed to an immediate spike from regular sugar. So you will still see a rise in blood sugar even though you ate a sugar free muffin.
Low Carbohydrate Foods
Low carb foods have fewer carbohydrates and therefore less sugar as well. They usually have a slow-digesting sugar alcohol instead of quick-digesting regular sugar so there will be less of a rise in blood sugar levels.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a genus of herbs and shrubs in the same family as sunflowers, and is native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana, for example, are 30 to 45 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar, and have been used for centuries in some South American countries as a sweetener in yerba mate and medicinal teas for treating various ailments.
Steviol (notice the “-ol” ending, which indicates an alcohol) glycosides are the essential component of stevia’s sweetness.
Eating sugar free, no sugar added, or low carb foods is better for maintaining blood sugar levels. You may also help to slow the digestion of a regular sugar by eating the food item combined with a healthy protein and/or fat. For example, putting nuts on your ice cream can slow down the absoption process. And who doesn’t like adding a little crunch to your ice cream?