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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Gimme Some Sugar (Free)?

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These days lots of sugar free versions of traditional yummy treats are popping up all over the place (candy and cookies and ice cream…oh my!). Are you thinking, “Sign me up?” Well, before you jump in the car and fill up your cart, consider this. If you look at the Nutrition Facts panel, you’ll find that in many cases, the calorie difference between the original and sugar free version is less than 50, and sometimes just a measly 10 (sugar free sure ain’t calorie free).

When they take the sugar out, they typically put in something called sugar alcohols (i.e. sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, lactitol, and maltitol). These guys are either absorbed into the blood more slowly or not at all, so they don’t raise blood sugar levels as much as other types of carbs. But, they aren’t really “free” for a few reasons. First, sugar is only one ingredient (just five teeny sugar free chocolates can provide 13 g of fat, 8 of which are saturated – yikes!).

And, according to the American Diabetes Association, diabetics (who often “count” or add up the amount of carbohydrate grams they eat to stay within a certain limit), should count half of the sugar alcohol content (so sugar free ain’t even carb free). And finally, because sugar alcohols aren’t well digested, they can cause diarrhea or a “laxative effect” (especially if you overindulge), and we all know that’s just not pretty. So, if you choose sugar free versions at all, don’t ignore the label (especially calories and saturated fat), use moderation (i.e. two cookies vs. the box), and if you need more info, check out the following “sweet” links:

http://www.diabetes.org/nutrition-and-recipes/nutrition/sweeteners.jsp
http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/advocacy_adap0598_ENU_HTML.htm
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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