People with diabetes who are looking for a sweetener that won't affect their blood sugar often turn to sugar substitutes. However, although all artificial sweeteners on the market are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are considered safe, there are studies showing that they can do more harm than good to prevent obesity and diabetes. If you have diabetes or are at risk of developing it, it is important to understand the types of sugar substitutes and how they affect the body.
Types of sweeteners
Sweeteners can be divided into two camps: nutritious and non-nutritive. Artificial sweeteners have no nutritional value, while sugar alcohols and natural sweeteners like honey have some nutritional value.
You've probably seen artificial sweeteners in separate bags at your local restaurant, but they are also found in diet drinks, light yogurt, baked goods, ice cream, gum, cereals, hard candies, caramels, and more. Most artificial sweeteners are called "strong sweeteners" because they are several times sweeter than white table sugar (sucrose). Splenda, for example, is 600 times sweeter than sugar .
Eight FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners:
- Saccharin (Sweet'N Low, sugar twin)
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Sucralose ( Splenda )
- Steviol glycosides (Stevia)
- Luo Han Guo Fruit Extracts
- Advantage me
Please note that neotame and adventam are approved as general dietary supplements and are not available as tabletop sweeteners .
Although sugar substitutes are chemical compounds produced that have little to no nutritional value, many people find that they can satisfy sugar cravings without raising their glucose levels, as they contain no carbohydrates or calories. In fact, some non-nutritive sweeteners pass through the body undigested .
However, there is research showing that the reckless use of sugar substitutes can be linked to diabetes and obesity for a number of reasons. First, they can change the way the body metabolizes fat and energy.
Artificial sweeteners can also disrupt the gut microbiome – beneficial bacteria colonize the intestinal tract and can affect metabolism, immune health, growth, and the creation of brain neurotransmitters .
One small study found that obese women who drank three diet sodas a day changed gene expression, including new markers for inflammatory cytokines (cells that contribute to inflammation) .
Additionally, studies have found that both acesulfame potassium and saccharin negatively affect the microbiome of animals that have experienced a decline in bacterial strains and other changes in the gut microbiota. If these sweeteners act similarly in humans, they can experience changes in metabolism and inflammation, which could make type 2 diabetes worse and lead to glucose intolerance. Saccharin can be especially troublesome .
Various so-called nutritional sweeteners such as isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol are found in many sugar-free gum and candy. Known technically as sugar alcohols or polyols, they are extracted from natural fibers in fruits and vegetables.
Sugar alcohols can raise blood sugar levels, although this is usually not enough to cause harm. Its effects on blood sugar levels can range from a glycemic index of 13 for xylitol to 9 for sorbitol. Others, like mannitol, border on zero. Despite their relatively low effect on blood glucose levels, some sugar alcohols (such as xylitol and mannitol) can have a laxative effect when consumed in excess. These sweeteners are less commonly sold in grocery stores, but can be found in major drug stores and health food stores.
Natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit have gained popularity in recent years and are considered safe for diabetics. These plant extracts can also be several hundred times sweeter than sugar, and extracts of stevia, thaumatin, and luo han-kuo (monk fruit) have been approved by the FDA as substitutes for sugar .
Uses for cooking and baking
Since many sugar substitutes are much sweeter than sugar, less is required to achieve the desired sweetness. Therefore, when cooking or baking, you may need to adjust your recipe if you substitute a sweeter one for white table sugar.
While the sweetener packaging may have specific instructions on how to cook and bake, it can be reduced to trial and error (try to use less than you think at first and adjust accordingly after trying it), or you can look for specific recipes that use substitutes for the sweetener. sugar or natural sweeteners instead of white sugar.
A few more things to keep in mind when cooking and baking with alternative sweeteners:
- Your baked goods may be lighter in color since natural sugar turns a darker brown color when baked and artificial sweeteners don't brown as well.
- Cooking time may need to be adjusted.
- There may be a texture or aftertaste that you are not used to.
- The volume of cakes or cookies can be reduced slightly because it uses much less sweetener.
5 best sweeteners for diabetes
There are several sugar alternatives that may be preferable if you have diabetes, as these options tend to have less impact on your blood sugar than traditional sugar .
Xylitol, commonly found in many fruits and vegetables, is a sugar alcohol compound that is similar in sweetness to sugar. Xylitol contains 40% fewer calories than sugar (2.4 calories per gram) and has little effect on blood sugar and insulin due to a lack of fructose.
Look for brands like Xlear and Xyla on the market. Xylitol can be obtained from birch or plant fibers known as xylan.
Additionally, the sugar alcohol, erythritol, was praised for its sweetness, but it contained virtually no calories. Erythritol is made from fermented wheat or starch and contains 70% sugar sweetness and only 6% calories (0.24 calories per gram).
Erythritol is very safe to use, but it can still cause digestive discomfort when consumed in large amounts (like any sugar alcohol). Since humans do not have the enzymes necessary to digest erythritol, most of it is absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted unchanged in the urine, which means that it does not increase blood sugar levels.
Monk Fruit Extract
Popular in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), monk fruit or Luo Han Guo is a safe alternative for diabetes to sugar derived from dried melon. Monk fruit extract contains no calories or carbohydrates and is approximately 150 times sweeter than table sugar. It does not raise blood glucose levels, making it a beneficial option for people with diabetes.
The FDA recognizes that monk fruit is safe for everyone, with no side effects. Although it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory and to combat a sore throat, there have been no long-term scientific studies. there is no information on its use yet.
You can see monk fruit sweetened products like Monk Fruit In the Raw or Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener showing up on the shelves, both in powder form. It has a slight aftertaste, but this minor drawback can be outweighed by the many benefits of the product.
Harvested from the roots of the yacon plant native to the Andes in South America, yacon syrup is a high-fiber sweetener that contains fructooligosaccharides, a form of soluble fiber that feeds the bacteria in your microbiome (known as prebiotics ) .
Yacon syrup has been studied for weight loss, but its true benefit lies in its high fiber content, which helps balance glucose levels. It has a glycemic index of 1.
Yacon looks and tastes a bit molasses, with a deep caramel sweetness that works well in baked goods, sauces, and desserts.
Stevia (Truvia, PureVia)
Stevia is a plant product derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Powdered stevia is sold under several brand names, including Truvia and PureVia. It contains 3 grams of carbohydrates per bag and has a glycemic index of 0. Stevia can also be found as a liquid extract. It does not have the same intensity of sweetness as most artificial brands, but it remains stable when heated. It has a distinctive aftertaste that is well tolerated by most people, but can be very noticeable to some.
Stevia can also be grown indoors as a houseplant; You can add a fresh leaf to a cup of tea for a raw powdered alternative.
Frequently asked questions
How Much Sugar Can You Eat If You Have Diabetes?
There is no set limit for people with diabetes, although general dietary guidelines state that added sugar should be less than 10% of your daily calorie intake. The most important thing is to keep track of your carbohydrate intake (including sugar) and factor it into your diabetes management plan. Check with your healthcare provider about the amount that is right for you.
What are low sugar fruits for diabetes?
Fruits with a glycemic index below 55 are ideal, including cherries, berries, apples, pears, and oranges.