Sugar free items or no sugar added items remove the processed sugar (sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, etc.) and replace it will a slower digesting carbohydrate known as “sugar alcohol”. Some familiar names of sugar alcohols are sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol and lactitol. Most of them end in “ol” just like alcohol. These sugar alcohols will still have an impact on your blood sugar, however, because they digest more slowly you may see less of a spike. The “regular” cookie has sugar and flour, etc. and the sugar free cookie will have sugar alcohol, flour, etc. Sugar alcohol is not as sweet as sugar, therefore, artificial sweeteners are used to enhance the sweetness.
It’s important to remember that there is an affect on your glucose levels from these foods so please discourage yourself from overeating them. Many of us forget that “free” may not mean “free of everything”! There are still calories (and the majority of us do not need the encouragement to eat more. “No sugar added” foods just means the sugar is replaced with sugar alcohol but the product contains a natural sugar (fruit sugar or fructose or milk sugar or lactose) so it cannot be called sugar free. When you shop for cookies, candy or ice cream that is “sugar free or no sugar added” please be careful to read the label and look at the total carbohydrates. Then remind yourself that it still turns into sugar and not to overeat! If you are not convinced of it’s affect on your glucose levels, then simply check your blood sugar before and 2 hours after your meal.
Do this with the “real” cookie and the “sugar free” cookie. Notice the difference and make your informed decision. Diabetes is a very individualized disease which is why testing blood glucose levels is encouraged. You may find that you like the taste of regular jam as opposed to sugar free jam – so you can use 1 teaspoon instead of 1 tablespoon of it. However, if you like adding a bit more jam to your food then you may benefit from using the sugar free jam since there are fewer total carbohydrates in it. You have choices. Make the right one for you.
Sugar Free or Not? by Marci Sloane, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE