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Sugar Alcohols

If you eat many foods that are labeled “no sugar added” or “sugar free”, you may wonder how foods can be sweet without having sugar as an ingredient.  Take a closer look at the ingredients listing on the food label of the package and see if any of these words are listed:  mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, sorbitol, or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.  If one or more of these is listed, the product contains a sugar alcohol.  Sugar alcohols are found in plant products, including berries and fruit.  They don’t have as many calories as sucrose (table sugar) and they are not well absorbed.  Some people may experience a laxative effect if eaten in large quantities.

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Many people with diabetes think that foods labeled as “sugar free” or “no sugar added” won’t affect their blood glucose and are safe to eat in large amounts.  Some people may overeat due to their belief that it’s safe to do so without having an effect on their blood sugar.  However, foods that contain sugar alcohols need to be included as part of a person with diabetes overall meal plan since they contain carbohydrates and calories.  Blood sugar may still be elevated due to the overconsumption of the product.

Be sure to read the ingredients label on the food package the next time you’re tempted to stock-up on “sugar free” or “dietetic” foods – it may not be as healthy as you think!  In addition, the Nutrition Facts label on the package will list the amount of grams of carbohydrate in the product.  Be sure to include this in your overall meal plan.

Contributed by:  Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Hamilton County Extension.  Source:  Joslin Diabetes Center.

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