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Sugar-free labels can be deceiving

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Sugars come from many sources

By Josey Crew

“Ahh ... sugar free chocolate, the one thing I can have and not feel guilty.” Right? Wrong. You might as well have the real thing, just less of it. 

The truth is, not all items labeled sugar free are truly sugar free. How can they get away with that you may ask? Simple, if the item was not prepared with good old white table sugar: they can claim that it is sugar free. However, the item may contain fructose, maltose, sorghum, molasses, honey, corn syrup, or any other additives that still contain sugar and may raise blood sugar for people with diabetes. That’s pretty dangerous if you think about it.

If you have diabetes or have problems with irregular blood sugar and you are about to purchase a so-called sugar free product: look at the nutrition label first. Pay very close attention to the amount of carbohydrates in the item instead of total sugar. It may make sense to check for sugar on the label if that is what you are watching but the total carbohydrates listed covers everything in that product that will affect your blood sugar. Also, remember to check the serving size on the label to make sure you are calculating the correct amount of carbohydrates for how much you eat or drink.

Some of these sugar free products contain sugar alcohols. Realize that sugar alcohols have calories, may cause a rise in blood sugar, and can have a laxative effect. Sorbitol, malitol, isomalt, xylitol and hydrogenated starch hydrolosates are some popular sugar alcohols to look for on the ingredient list.

The good news is that most of your popular sugar substitutes do not contain carbohydrates. Therefore, they don’t cause an increase in blood sugar. Some examples of these are sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Nutra Sweet or Equal) and saccharin (Sweet-n-Low or Sugar Twin). However, be careful with the baking blends of Splenda and Equal. They are mixed with real sugar, so half of the product is sweetener and half sugar.

The lesson is: be careful with sugar free products. Always check the nutrition label and compare it to the regular product that isn’t sugar free. You might be surprised.

Josey Crew, RD, LD is a Clinical Dietitian for Lincoln Trail District Health Department. Nutrition counseling is available for children and adults by appointment at the LaRue County Health Center. Monthly classes are also offered for weight loss and people with diabetes. For further information, call 358-3844.