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Living with Diabetes

Can I Use Sugar Substitutes If I’ve Got Diabetes?

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Good question! First, you likely want to make sure sugar substitutes are safe to use. Second, you want to know how sugar substitutes and foods they’re in may affect your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Let’s get right to the answers.  

First - the safety question. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) nutrition recommendations for adults with diabetes, the sugar substitutes approved for safety by FDA are approved for use by the general public, including people with diabetes. Sucralose, the sweetening ingredient in SPLENDA® Sweetener Products, is one of the sugar substitutes approved by FDA. 

Second – the diabetes specific questions. Yes, people with diabetes can safely use FDA approved sugar substitutes. About their effect on blood glucose control, the ADA nutrition recommendations make the point that research shows sugar substitutes do not cause a rise in blood glucose. But there’s one caveat the ADA notes:  foods which contain sugar substitutes plus other calorie and carbohydrate containing ingredients.

Let’s dissect this point.

Foods which contain sugar substitutes divide into three basic categories: 

  1. Sugar substitutes which are generally available in packet and granulated forms. You can measure and sprinkle these to sweeten your foods and beverages. They contain a very small amount of carbohydrates per serving from the bulking ingredients.
  2. Sugar free foods I are those that typically contain zero or negligible calories from carbohydrate or other nutrients and are sweetened with one or more sugar substitutes. Examples: diet soda, diet iced tea, dry powdered drink mixes, or flavored gelatin.
  3. Sugar free foods II typically contain ingredients that have calories, carbohydrate or other nutrients and are sweetened with one or more sugar substitutes. Examples: hot cocoa mix, yogurt, reduced calorie fruit juice, or ice cream. The point made by ADA in their recommendations is that they may impact blood glucose levels due to the calorie and nutrient containing ingredients and not the sugar substitutes.

And don’t forget one more category of foods sweetened with a sugar substitute – the recipes you make. Check out my other blog titled How Can I Use SPLENDA® Sweetener in Recipes If I’ve Got Diabetes? to get tips to make sweet tooth-satisfying, palate-pleasing sweets with SPLENDA® Sweeteners for your whole family. 

How Sugar Substitutes Fit in a Diabetes Eating Plan

Want to know how to fit foods and beverages sweetened with sugar substitutes into your diabetes eating plan? Here’s how:

  • Sugar substitutes, in their packet or granulated form, and sugar free foods with zero or nearly no calories or carbohydrate (categories 1 and 2 above), are a “free food,” defined as any food or beverage that contains less than 20 calories and 5 grams or less of carbohydrate per serving.
  • Sugar free foods that contain calories and carbohydrate from other ingredients, or recipes that contain calories, should be factored into your diabetes eating plan because they will impact your blood glucose levels. Examples: Sugar free chocolate pudding (1/2 cup serving) contains 70 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate. For example, a dinner entrée recipe with SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Citrus Glazed Chicken with Almonds, contains 220 calories and 9 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Sugar substitutes and foods they are used to sweeten can offer people with diabetes (and everyone) a way to satisfy a sweet tooth while saving calories and grams of carbohydrate. But it’s important to note that if you have diabetes you no longer need to eliminate sugary foods and sweets from your food choices. According to ADA, you can substitute sugary foods and sweets for equal amounts of other sources of carbohydrate without affecting your blood glucose levels. However, ADA encourages you to make these substitutions in the context of an overall healthful eating plan and cautions you to not increase your calorie intake.

Many people, especially people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, are overweight and need to lose some weight. Research shows losing and keeping off even a small amount of weight can improve your health. Using sugar substitutes and foods sweetened with them can help you shave calories and satisfy your sweet tooth as long as you don’t replace those saved calories with other calorie-containing foods.

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, BC-ADM, is a nationally recognized dietitian and diabetes educator who applies nearly 35 years of expertise as an author, freelance writer, media spokesperson, consultant and diabetes educator. Hope recognizes that healthy eating today can be one tough job and believes that simple tweaks in your food choices and how you prepare foods can often set you on a path to healthier eating

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