Sugar and Fat Substitutes
There are two types of sugar substitutes - nutritive sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners.
Nutritive Sweeteners Nutritive sweeteners contain calories and carbohydrates and can raise blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols are some of the most common nutritive sweeteners. They are digested more slowly than regular sugar but still change to sugar and raise blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols contain about half the calories and carbohydrates of sugar. Some common sugar alcohols are sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol and xylitol. These sugar alcohols are often used in "sugar-free" or "dietetic foods" such as chewing gum, candies and desserts. For some people eating even small amounts of foods with sugar alcohols can cause gas, cramps, bloating and/or diarrhea. In these cases, consumption of sugar alcohols should be avoided. Other commonly used nutritive sweeteners include honey, fructose (fruit sugar), carob, dextrose and corn syrup. These are "natural sweeteners," which can lead to the misunderstanding that they are healthy. In truth, they all contain calories and carbohydrates that can affect blood sugar levels. A few natural sweeteners do have the benefit of being sweeter than table sugar, so less is needed.
Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Non-nutritive sweeteners are also known as "low-calorie sweeteners" or "artificial sweeteners." The most common ones are aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame-K and stevia. These products are many times sweeter than sugar, so only a very small amount is needed. Because such a small amount is used, they do not provide calories or carbohydrates and do not affect blood sugar levels.
Important Things to Know
- "Sugar-free" does not mean carbohydrate-free. Read nutrition labels closely for carbohydrate counts.
- Simply cutting back on the amount of sugar in cooking and/or baking is an alternative to using sugar substitutes.
- Use nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon or almond extract in place of sugar in recipes for a sweet flavor without added calories and carbohydrates.
Products made with fat substitutes or "fat replacers" cut fat and calories, which can help with weight loss and lowering cholesterol levels. While fat-free, fat substitutes still contain carbohydrates and can affect blood sugar levels. Olestra is a common fat substitute. It is made from fat, but the body is unable to absorb it, so no calories are consumed. It does contain carbohydrates. Olestra may cause stomach and intestinal issues for some people. In these cases, consumption of fat substitutes should be limited.