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Sugar Substitutes and Type 2 Diabetes

Examining Sugar Substitutes

There are a number of sugar substitutes, including artificial sugar substitutes and natural sugar substitutes.
Artificial Sugar Substitutes
Artificial sugar substitutes (also called artificial sweeteners or low-calorie sweeteners) do not contain any sugar (sucrose). They are usually low in calories, and most of them will not affect your blood sugar levels. They can be used to help sweeten food and drinks with fewer calories and carbohydrates when they replace sugar. A majority of artificial sweeteners are at least 100 times sweeter than regular sugar, so only a small amount is needed.
With the exception of aspartame, artificial sweeteners cannot be broken down by the body, so they pass through without being digested, which means no extra calories. However, it's important to note that although a food may be labeled "sugar-free" or "reduced sugar," it does not mean it is carbohydrate-free or lower in carbohydrates than the original version of the food.
Five artificial sweeteners have been tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including:
  • Acesulfame potassium (also called acesulfame K) -- sold under brand names Sunett® and Sweet One®
  • Aspartame -- sold under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®
  • Saccharin -- sold under the brand names Sweet'N Low® and Sugar Twin®
  • Sucralose -- sold under the brand name Splenda®
  • Neotame.
These artificial sweeteners are found in numerous products, including diet drinks, baked goods, and light yogurt, just to name a few. You can also purchase them as table-top sweeteners to add to coffee or tea. There are also "granular" versions, which can be used for cooking and baking.
Natural Sugar Substitutes
Many people are concerned about the content of artificial sweeteners and do not want to consume these products. There are some other alternatives -- natural sugar substitutes. Some of these also have nutritional value and lower glycemic index levels.
Some of these natural sugar substitutes include:
  • Stevia
  • Xylitol
  • Raw honey
  • Agave nectar
  • Maple syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Organic sugar.
Stevia can be a great choice for a healthy sugar substitute. It comes from Stevia rebaudiana, a South American plant, and is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. As an added bonus, it doesn't have any effects on blood pressure or blood sugar levels.
Xylitol is a type of natural sugar alcohol sweetener. It is found in the fibers of fruits and vegetables. The human body does not process (metabolize) sugar alcohols in the same way it does with sugar. The FDA does not require them to be listed on a food label. Sugar alcohols only need to be listed on a product if it makes a specific sugar claim, such as that it is sugar-free. However, if sugar alcohols are labeled, they are placed in a separate line under total carbohydrates.
Sugar alcohols have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels. However, because sugar alcohols are not completely digested, many people may find that consuming them causes abdominal (stomach) cramping, gas, indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea. Count sugar alcohols as part of your total carbohydrate intake and remember that they can contain calories.
Raw honey is sometimes known as a "superfood," as unprocessed honey has antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients. It's important to note the difference between processed and unprocessed honey. Honey that is processed is stripped of many of the nutrients and is basically equivalent to white table sugar.
Some types of raw honey, such as red clover and orange blossom, can have a lower glycemic index, meaning they dissolve more slowly into the bloodstream and will have less of an effect on blood sugar levels.
Agave nectar is sweeter than honey, and is a combination of fructose and glucose sugars. It comes from the blue agave plant, and does not have much of an effect on blood sugar levels.
Maple syrup is another natural sweetener, and is high in certain minerals like zinc and manganese. It also helps to control cholesterol levels. However, it has a fairly high glycemic index, which means it can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, so it should be consumed in moderation.
Brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup also have a high glycemic index. Those who have type 2 diabetes should try to avoid these types of natural sweeteners, or at least consume them in moderation and monitor their blood sugar levels.
Evaporated cane juice, also known as dried cane juice, crystallized cane juice, or milled cane sugar, does not undergo the same degree of processing as refined sugar. Therefore, it retains more of the nutrients.
Many people may not have heard of blackstrap molasses. When sugar cane is processed, the juice is extracted and boiled three times. The first boiling method produces the crystallized sugar that we know as table sugar. Blackstrap molasses is the concentrated byproduct of the third boiling and contains all the nutrients, including iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, calcium, and potassium. This can be a good alternative to refined brown sugar in baked goods.
Organic sugar comes from sugar cane that is grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. It is usually darker than table sugar, as it is not processed to the same extent as white sugar, and it also contains some molasses.
Healthy Eating for People With Diabetes

Information on Type 2 Diabetes

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