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Question, Will "Sugar Free" Foods Increase Your Blood Sugar Levels? | Diabetes Daily Post
Question, Will “Sugar Free” Foods Increase Your Blood Sugar Levels?

Will “sugar free” foods increase your blood sugar levels?

FreePatients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are often cautious of what they eat. It is important for patients with diabetes to manage their blood glucose (sugar) levels. Our favorite sweets often contain high sugar content. Therefore, they are encouraged to stay away from them or to only have them in moderation. Finding appropriate food choices can be quite difficult if you have diabetes. However, now there are “sugar free” versions of juice, candy, and many others of our favorite sweets. But can we enjoy the sugar free version without having to worry about our blood sugars?


According to the FDA, “sugar free” means less than 0.5 g sugars per serving. “Sugar free” foods typically replace sugar with sugar substitutes such as artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. Artificial sweeteners (i.e. sucralose, aspartame, ace-k, neotame, etc.) are at least 100 times sweeter than sugar. These artificial sweeteners are not broken down in the body.They do not have an effect on blood glucose levels and contain no calories (exception is aspartame which contains 4 calories/gram). Sugar alcohols (i.e. mannitol, sorbitol, etc.) are typically less sweet than sugar. They still provide enough sweetness to enhance the flavor of foods or beverages. Sugar alcohols are roughly 50% absorbed in the body. Therefore, they do not raise our blood sugar as much as natural sugar.But, they can still raise it! The unabsorbed half of the sugar alcohol passes through the gut. This may cause patients to experience diarrhea, flatulence, cramping, and bloating. You can find if these substitutes are added to a food or beverage by looking in the ingredients section of the label. A helpful hint is most sugar alcohols end in “-ol”.

Just because the label says sugar free doesn’t mean it’s a healthy option. Our total sugar is not only measured by how much sugar we intake but also by the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat we intake. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats get metabolized into sugars. One hundred percent of carbohydrates are converted to sugar while only a fraction of protein and fat get converted into sugar. So even though it says 0g of sugar on the label, you can still see an increase in blood glucose levels depending primarily on how much carbohydrates are in the foods.

Here’s a few examples of regular vs sugar free products we all love. When comparing jolly rancher candies vs sugar free jolly rancher candies, you can tell that the sugar free ones actually won’t increase your sugar values as much as the ones that contain sugar. The ones that contain sugar have 17 grams of carbohydrates with 11 grams of sugar per serving (3 pieces per serving). The sugar free version has 16 grams of carbohydrates with no sugar (4 pieces per serving). Another example of our favorite candy are Jelly Beans. The sugar containing ones have 37 grams of carbohydrates with 28 grams of sugar (35 pieces per serving) whereas sugar free ones have 36 grams of carbohydrates with 33 grams of water alcohols (35 pieces per serving). The lack of sugar is compensated in an increase in carbohydrates. These carbohydrates will overall get converted into glucose and will increase your blood sugar even though they do not directly contain sugars.

According to Institute of Medicine recommendations, the optimal adult diet should contain 45-65% total calories from carbohydrates, 10-35% from proteins and 20-35% from fat. A healthy nutrition tip when counting carbohydrates is; having a total of about 165 grams of carbohydrates in one day (45grams breakfast/lunch, 60 grams at dinner, and 15 grams for snacks). Having a balanced diet is essential.

Making good food choices can be difficult at times. We want to fill our bodies with complex carbohydrates, “good carbs” rather than simple carbohydrates “bad carbs.” Complex carbs are good carbs because they contain fibers that cause our body to work harder to break down. This delay in breakdown allows for a constant release of energy (ie fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains).  Simple carbs get broken down quickly in the body, thus resulting in a spike in glucose levels, and whatever is not used will be stored into fat (ie candy, chips, soda, white bread). Try decreasing your daily intake of junk food, sugary snacks and beverages while increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Overall, moderation and variety are important for a healthy diet. Try keeping sugars (including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) to a balance since they do get converted to glucose when they’re broken down in the body. For those that do have a sweet tooth, having those sweets that are labeled “sugar free” may be a better option. However, sugar free does not mean it won’t increase your blood glucose. Always check the nutrition label to properly assess the content of the food or beverage.

This Article is Brought to you By Our Guest Staff Writers:
Mario Ibrahim PharmD candidate 2017 MCPHS University
Jacob Oleck, PharmD, Medical Affairs Fellow, MCPHS University
Jennifer Goldman, RPh, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM
Professor of Pharmacy Practice, MCPHS University, Boston, MA
Clinical Pharmacist, Well Life, Peabody, MA

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