Expert Q&A

Sugar Substitutes: Can Diabetics Use Them?

I am diabetic. Can I use sugar substitutes?

-Nancy from Maryland

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), low-calorie sweeteners are free foods. Essentially, these sweeteners have been deemed part of a safe and healthy diet for diabetics. These sweeteners:

  • Make food taste sweet
  • Are calorie-free
  • Do not raise blood glucose levels.

Thus, there is no need to count them into your carbohydrate choices.

When used in place of sugar in drinks like coffee and tea, and on foods like cereal and fruit, sugar substitutes may help decrease your overall carbohydrate intake. However, some sugar-free foods/products that use low-calorie sweeteners actually have more calories, carbohydrates, and fat than the sugar sweetened versions. When considering foods that use low- or reduced-calorie sweeteners, always check the Nutrition Facts label. By comparing the calories, carbohydrates, and fat in the sugar-free version to the regular version, you'll be able to see whether or not it's a better choice.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved 5 nonnutritive sweeteners and regulates them as food additives: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame K), sucralose, and most recently, neotame. Nonnutritive sweeteners, like other food ingredients, appear on the food label in the ingredient list.

  • Saccharin (Sweet N Low, Sugar Twin) - can be used to sweeten both hot and cold foods.

  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) - high temperatures can decrease its sweetness; check the Equal website for cooking guidelines. Some individuals report allergic reactions to aspartame, including edema of the lips, tongue, and throat; dermatologic reactions; and respiratory problems. For information on aspartame and cancer see the following article from TheDietChannel: Does Aspartame Cause Cancer?
  • Acesulfame potassium (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett) - also known as acesulfame-K, this sweetener is heat stable and can be used in baking and cooking.
  • Sucralose (SPLENDA) - unaffected by heat and retains its sweetness in hot beverages, baked goods, and processed foods.

For more information on sugar substitutes see the following articles from TheDietChannel: Sweet and Low- er and Sugar Substitutes: The Skinny on Sugar Substitutes.

Megan Porter, RD/LD
Contributing Expert

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