Beware of hidden carbs, calories in “sugar-free” foods
- 1 Those “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” foods in grocery stores may seem tempting, but don’t mistakenly believe that they are diet foods.
- 2 Choosing sugar-free or no-sugar added products over regular ones may not be the magic potion it seems.
Those “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” foods in grocery stores may seem tempting, but don’t mistakenly believe that they are diet foods.
In fact, they may contain the same amount — or more – carbohydrates as foods containing sugar, and they may be high in fat and calories as well. This can be important for non-diabetics trying to lose weight, and for diabetics who must count carbs as part of their diet plan.
Choosing sugar-free or no-sugar added products over regular ones may not be the magic potion it seems.
Sugar-free baked goods, candy, ice cream, puddings, and other products usually contain sugar alcohols such as sorbitol in place of sugar to provide sweetness. Sugar alcohols have calories. Other products labeled as “no sugar added,” “reduced sugar,” or “light,” usually contain artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda), which have no or negligible calories.
It is true that sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners have fewer calories than sugar, and they don’t increase blood sugar levels as much as sugar if eaten in reasonable amounts. But some people have the misconception that sugar-free or no-sugar added products are inherently more healthy because they don’t contain sugar. If the key ingredients are white flour and shortening, it is not a healthy food choice. Also be aware that sugar alcohols also may cause gastric problems such as diarrhea and bloating, especially in children.
Eat Smaller Portions of Regular Foods
Because low-sugar foods usually cost more, simply buying the regular version of the food and reducing the serving size may be a better, lower-cost solution.
If you are unsure whether a sugar-free or no sugar added product has fewer carbohydrates, the Mayo Clinic advises placing the label of the lower sugar product next to the regular product and comparing the nutrient contents. If there is a significant difference in the carb count of the lower sugar product, choose it. However, beware if the lower sugar product has more fat and calories; the tradeoff may not be worth it.
The carbs in sugar-free products must be calculated differently, according to the American Diabetic Association. In products containing more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols, count carbs as follows:
• First, subtract half the grams of sugar alcohol from the amount of total carbohydrate.
• Then count the remaining grams of carbohydrate in the product.
If a meal bar is made with sugar alcohols and contains 15 grams of carbohydrate and 6 grams of sugar alcohol, the bar is counted as 12 grams of total carbohydrate, or 15 – 3 = 12.
These are the names of sugar alcohols to look for in sugar-free foods:
- glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine)
- hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
The seven artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States are:
- acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One)
- aspartame (Equal)
- luo han guo fruit extract (made from Chinese fruit)
- neotame (Nutrasweet)
- saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
- stevia (Truvia)
- sucralose (Splenda)