“No added sugar” and “Sugar-free” are popular terms that can be seen on various food packages these days. However, don’t misjudge both these types of products to be healthy or diabetes-friendly. One needs to analyze the constituents further to understand the effects on a diabetic. On the other hand, it is important to understand what does sugar-free really mean. Sugar-free for diabetes does not necessarily mean calorie free and diabetes is all about management of calories.
FDA labels and regulations: sugar-free v/s no added sugar
Current FDA food labeling regulations define sugars as the units of sugars used in foods. Examples of these units of sugar include refined sugar, dextrose, fructose corn syrup, honey syrup, brown sugar, and others. Thus, a food labeled as sugar-free for diabetes contains less than 0.5 grams of these sugars and may contain a lesser number of calories as compared to their sweetened counterparts.
Various terms are used by FDA such as sugar-free, zero sugar, no sugar, and sugarless. Some products such as canned fruits are also labeled as ‘no sugar added’. However, these products contain their natural sugars, but no artificial sugar is added during processing.
Various categories of artificial sweeteners or sweetening ingredients in sugar-free foods
Terms such as sugar-free or no added sugar do not give us information on how much of artificial sweeteners are added. Most labels claim they contain artificial sweeteners; however, it is necessary to know what kind of sweeteners are present and what are their implications for diabetics.
There are two kinds of ingredients that are used as artificial sweeteners:
Sugar alcohols: They are called polyols; they are neither sugars nor alcohol. These do contain fewer calories and are digested slowly by the body, thus causing a slower release of sugars in the blood. Common names for these polyols are isomalt, sorbitol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, and xylitol.
Sugar substitutes: These contain no calories or carbohydrates and do not cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Sugar substitutes approved by the FDA include aspartame, neotame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose. Most of the sugar substitutes are made from these compounds.
Whenever you come across products in stores that say ‘sugar-free’ they usually fall into either one of these categories.
Sugar-free foods sweetened with more than one type of sugar alcohol
Sugar-free foods that contain one or more sugar substitutes that contain other ingredients with calories and carbohydrates.
Sugar substitutes used that do not contain other ingredients with calories and carbohydrates.
Whatever type of sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners you consume always be aware of how many calories or carbohydrates they contain. Always eat them in reasonable portions and follow a healthy meal plan.