Welcome back to our weekly advice column, Ask D'Mine, with your host, veteran type 1 and diabetes community educator Wil Dubois.  In honor of National Food Month (OK, technically, it's National Nutrition Month), today we're tackling a couple 'a food kinda questions. Sorta. Well, if you consider soda and candy to be foods that is...

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Marco from New Mexico, type 1, writes: I've noticed recently that when I eat sugar-free candy, my blood sugar shoots way up. How can that be? The package says sugar-free! It shouldn't affect my blood sugar, should it?

Wil@Ask D'Mine answers: Here's my simple rule for surviving the global buffet. No matter what it is, if it has calories — it will affect your blood sugar. If it will affect your blood sugar, and you're a type 1, you gotta take insulin for it. Look at your package of "sugar-free" candy. Does it have calories? I'll bet you a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup it does. So sugar or no, you need to cover it.

Innovation 2015

What the heck is going on? Well, most sugar-free candies use sugar alcohol as a sweetener to replace sugar. Sugar alcohol doesn't have the same impact on your blood glucose as regular sugar, but contrary to popular belief, it does have an impact. It's a carb, and anything that contains carbs of any kind will impact your blood sugar. Oh, and by the way, a word to the wise: sugar alcohols upset a lot of folks' stomachs, as they can be hard to digest.

For sugar alcohols, you need to bolus for exactly half of the sugar alcohol. So take the total carbs, subtract the fiber, then subtract 50% of the sugar alcohol, and divide by your insulin to carb ratio. If you're a T1, math is your friend.

And think about this: if you're taking insulin anyway, which is healthier and smarter: taking less insulin for something supposedly "sugar-free," or taking a little more insulin for sugar-full? We need to do some label diving to find an answer to that question.

Now Russell Stover, who also owns the brands Whitman's and Pangburn's, makes a whole lot of the sugar-free candy on the market. (BTW—Russell Stover is a "proud sponsor" of JDRF. Hmmmmm....). Moving along, nutritional information is noticeably lacking from the official Russell Stover website, but I did find a third-party website that reproduced the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list for the company's Whitman's Sugar-Free Sampler box.

Diving into the label, I found some interesting things. When compared to the Whitman's regular Sampler Box, the sugar-free stuff has more fat. This is because nature hates a vacuum. Take away sugar and you need to add fat. In fact, the sugar-free has about 20% more fat than the "regular," and because of this extra fat most sugar-free candy actually has more calories, too. More calories means more weight, and more fat means higher heart attack risk. Have we talked about heart attack risk and diabetes lately? You sooooo don't need extra fat in your diet.

Another thing to consider is that the ingredient list for Whitman's Sugar-Free Sampler is 49 items long and includes things like glycerol-lacto esters of fatty acids and sodium benzoate. Oh and acesulfame potassium and dipotassium phosphate, of course. I've never heard of any of these, but I'm pretty sure there aren't any dipotassium phosphate trees in nature. But before you get too agitated, it wouldn't hurt you to look at the ingredient list on a box of "real candy" either. In the case of Whitman's normal sampler, I counted only ten fewer items, and the list that makes up these tasty morsels includes sodium metabisulfite and the poison gas sulfur dioxide, which is apparently FDA approved as a preservative in small quantities.

(Call me crazy, but as a writer, I found myself wondering if it's really a good idea to put anything into your body that your spell-checker can't make sense of.)

Of course, candy isn't supposed to be healthy. And I believe that it's OK to be unhealthy in moderation if it brings you happiness. In the case of candy, sugar-free or not, you'll need to take some insulin for it, Marco—'cause you're a type 1. Personally, I opt for the real thing myself. While not a health food, or even a natural food by any stretch of the imagination, it does seem to have a few less ingredients that I can't pronounce, and that makes sense to me.

 

Nicki from California, type 1, asks: My question is: are diet sodas really OK for diabetics? I know they contain a lot of caffeine and other chemicals, so I often hear advice to avoid them, but I really enjoy drinks with some interesting flavors.

Wil@Ask D'Mine answers: My favorite pen company, Retro 51, has a great registered trade mark slogan: "Life is too short to carry an Ugly Pen!"â„¢

Likewise, I think life is too short to drink boring fluids.

And unlike Marco's problem above, diet sodas don't have any calories, so they don't need any insulin at all. But they do have phosphoric acid. And our old friend from the Whitman's Sugar-Free Sampler sodium benzoate. And the spell-check-confounding phenylketonurics. At least, Diet Dr. Pepper does.

While water has only two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

The bottom line here is: what do you mean by "OK for diabetics?" If you mean, will it affect our blood sugar? then, yeah, diet sodas are OK for diabetics. If you mean is it good for us? then, no, not really.

And for both type 1s and type 2s fighting their waistlines, consider the disorientating new research that shows people who drink more diet soda tend to be fatter than people who don't. Lots fatter. WTF? But there's no calories! How can something with no calories make you fatter?! I dunno. Neither does anyone else. Maybe it's the artificial sweeteners. Maybe it's the sodium benzoate. Or the maybe phenylketonurics. Or maybe it's not the soda at all. Some researchers have suggested that it may be as simple as the fact that people who drink a lot of diet sodas have a larger sweet tooth. Maybe they're sneaking Twinkies when no one is looking.

We covered this topic here at the 'Mine this past Wednesday. Check it out.

So if you're battling weight, Nicki, then maybe you should try sexing up your liquids by running them through some tea bags. Otherwise, while not exactly "good" for you, I think diet soda now and then isn't "bad" for you either.

Like all things in life, everything in moderation—life's too short for ugly pens and boring drinks.

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.

 
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.