Sugar Alternatives: Friend or Foe for Diabetics?

Oct 6, 2023 | Health Matters, Learn to Eat Clean and Healthy, Sugar and Diabetes

Sugar alternatives are buzzing in health circles, especially for those managing diabetes. But how do they truly measure up against regular sugar? This article breaks down some of the science and effects of these substitutes in your body, guiding you to choices that align with your health goals and blood sugar management.

 

Understanding Sugar and Diabetes

Sugar is more than just a sweet treat; it causes a lot of damage to your system. When it comes to diabetes, it’s a topic that further demands attention. When sugar enters your system, your body releases insulin to manage and regulate blood glucose levels, and diabetes interferes with this process. There are multiple types of diabetes, but the main two types of diabetes are:

Type 1 Diabetes

An autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body doesn’t produce insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes rely on external insulin, delivered via injections or pumps, to help regulate their blood glucose and keep it within a healthy range.

Type 2 Diabetes

The body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to it. It’s the more common type of diabetes and is influenced by a combination of genetic predisposition, diet, and sedentary lifestyle factors. While it can be managed with oral medications, a balanced diet, and regular exercise, some people also require insulin therapy as the condition progresses or if left untreated.

For both types, managing sugar intake is essential, but not all sugars impact the body the same way. 

Types of Sugars and Sugar Substitutes On The Market

When you stroll through grocery aisles or look at product labels, you’ll notice a range of sugars and sugar substitutes. It’s more than just the familiar white granules we grew up knowing. Knowing what options are available to you and distinguishing between them will help you navigate product labels and choose the sugar alternatives in line with managing your health.

Natural Sugars: These come directly from nature and can be found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. It includes fructose (from fruits) and lactose (from milk). While they’re naturally occurring, we don’t want to skip monitoring their intake, especially if you have diabetes.

Natural Sweeteners: These are alternatives derived from nature, like stevia and monk fruit extract

Added Sugars: These are sugars added during the processing of foods and drinks. Familiar names to watch out for include high fructose corn syrup (also known as HFCS, corn syrup, and glucose-fructose), cane sugar, and glucose

Artificial Sweeteners: Often used as zero-calorie alternatives to sugar, these include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose

Sugar Alcohols: These are organic compounds derived from sugar, used in many products such as gum or protein bars, if not seen on their own in the baking aisle at your grocery store. You’ll most likely recognize them as xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol

With so many options available, understanding the effects on your body means you can confidently manage your symptoms.

Pros and Cons of Sugar Alternatives

Each type of sugar alternative has different effects on your body. We will focus today on the influence on your blood sugar, but it’s good to keep in mind that many sugar alternatives can impact your system beyond your glucose readings, too. As with anything, moderation is key and opting for natural, whole foods will have you feeling your absolute best!  

Artificial Sweeteners

A closer examination of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin shows their unique interactions with the body. Unlike traditional sugars, they don’t go through the standard metabolic processes that sugar does when we eat it. Instead, they remain largely unchanged, leading to a minimal effect on blood sugar. Their molecular makeup provides sweetness, satisfying our taste receptors without the associated glucose consequences.

✔︎ Minimal Blood Sugar Impact: Their unique metabolic pathway prevents significant blood sugar alterations.

✔︎ Weight Control: Offers sweetness without contributing to daily caloric intake, which can be helpful in weight control efforts.

✔︎ Tooth-Friendly: Unlike sugars, they don’t contribute to tooth decay.

✔︎ Stable Shelf Life: They remain stable at high temperatures, making them suitable for cooking and baking.

Synthetic: Artificial sweeteners aren’t whole foods and don’t contribute to your nutritional intake.

Digestive Discomfort: Overconsumption can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal issues.

Promote Sugar Cravings: Many users attest to more triggers for sweet foods and beverages.

Long-Term Effects: Regular consumption of artificial sweeteners doesn’t have a long health history, meaning there may be worse implications.

Natural Sweeteners

Both of these are derived from plants and contain compounds that stimulate our sweetness receptors without a direct correlation to the glucose levels in our blood. When compared to artificial sweeteners, the body metabolizes these natural alternatives in a more comprehensive manner. Unlike aspartame or saccharin, which largely stay unmetabolized, compounds from stevia or monk fruit undergo a metabolic process without causing a spike in blood sugar levels.

✔︎ Minimal Effect on Blood Sugar: They don’t cause the same sharp rises in blood sugar levels as traditional sugars. 

✔︎ No Artificial Ingredients: Derived directly from plants, they’re not synthetically produced. 

✔︎ Antioxidant Properties: Some natural sweeteners, like monk fruit, contain antioxidants which can benefit overall health.

✔︎ Low to No Calories: Natural sweeteners often have fewer calories than refined sugar, aiding in weight management. 

Variable Sweetness: The sweetness can vary depending on the source and processing method. 

Cost: Natural sweeteners can be more expensive than both sugar and artificial alternatives. 

Availability: Being more specialized, they might not be as readily available or come in small quantities.

Limited Research: While they’re natural, there’s still ongoing research into the long-term effects of their regular consumption.

Sugar Alcohols

When ingested, sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed in the digestive tract. This partial absorption results in a reduced impact on blood sugar. When compared to other sugar alternatives, sugar alcohols behave more like a carbohydrate than an artificial sweetener. However, the glucose response is notably lesser than that of typical carbs.

✔︎ Gentler Blood Sugar Rise: Due to incomplete absorption, they cause a moderated blood sugar response.

✔︎ Suitable for Insulin Management: As they require little to no insulin for metabolism, they can assist in insulin level stability.

✔︎ Tooth-Friendly: Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, have been shown to reduce the risk of dental cavities.

✔︎ Taste Experience: Their flavor profile is often closer to real sugar, making them a preferred choice for many.

Digestive Concerns: Consuming large amounts can lead to bloating or diarrhea in some individuals. 

Incomplete Sweetness: Some might find them less sweet than other sugars, leading to potential overuse or not curbing sugar cravings. 

Caloric Content: Unlike certain artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols contain calories, which can be a consideration for weight management.

Potential Allergic Reactions: Some individuals might react to specific sugar alcohols.

Making Informed Choices About Sugar Alternatives

Regardless of which sugar alternatives you decide to use, you are making a conscious decision to take control of your health, I commend you! Below are some other recommendations to make sure you are your healthiest, happiest, and making choices from a wholly informational perspective. 

Personal Response Monitoring: Everyone’s body can react differently. Regularly check blood glucose levels after trying a new sweetener to understand its impact on you and your physiology.

Reading Labels: Even if a product is marketed as sugar-free or low-sugar, it’s wise to inspect the ingredients. Often, multiple sweeteners are used in combination. Knowing what is in your food is focal to making daily choices that align with your health needs and goals.

Consulting Professionals: Your health is no joke, and guessing or leaving your decisions to chance can be detrimental. Make sure you do your due diligence by talking to a specialist. Want to work with me? Book a consultation call now. 

Stay Updated: Research is ongoing. As new findings emerge, it’s beneficial to stay updated to ensure you’re making choices based on the latest scientific evidence.

Quality Over Quantity: Even with the safer alternatives, moderation remains key. Aim for minimal reliance on any sweeteners and strive for a balanced diet overall.

 

Taking care of your health is the truest and most impactful act of self-love you can show yourself. As you manage your diabetes with the tools and alternatives available, always be sure to cherish your unique body and its needs. Every mindful choice brings you one step closer to vibrant health and total mind and body harmony. 

Tired of healthcare professionals giving you generic advice, not looking at you for anything more than another patient number? My practice centers around listening to you. If you want to finally get the help you need to live in a body you love, Let’s chat! Book a consultation with me now. 

 

 


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