Are “Sugar-Free” Treats Really Sugar-Free?

by | Sep 16, 2019 | Food & Nutrition

Everyone loves a treat, especially the ones that are guilt-free. If you’re trying to limit your sugar intake, then you’ve probably reached for the sugar-free sweets or chocolate. But how “sugar-free” are these “sugar-free” treats really?

Sugar-free doesn’t mean carb-free

Some sugar substitutes contain carbohydrates, and while there might not be any sugar, a portion of carbohydrates turn into sugar once they are in the body. Most sugar-free sweets are made with sugar alcohols. While sugar alcohols have nothing to do with sugar or alcohol, they, in fact, come from plant products.

While sugar alcohols do have fewer kilojoules and carbs than normal sugar, they do still contain kilojoules and carbs, which will affect your blood sugar levels.

READ MORE: 4 Natural Sweeteners That Are Better Than Sugar, According To A Dietician

The thing about sugar alcohol is that you don’t digest it. As a result of the incomplete absorption, sugar alcohols or polyols, like xylitol, have less of an effect on blood glucose levels than the sugar sweeteners like fructose or sucrose.  While it means you can avoid some of sugar’s health-threatening properties, it also means exposure to new health issues. In large amounts, polyols may have a laxative effect and cause stomach cramps.

There are a few sugar alcohol that is commonly found in our treats, they are the ones that are often have labelled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added”  on their packaging:

1/ Maltitol

Maltitol is typically used in gummy candies. While Maltitol has fewer calories per gram than table sugar, the differences aren’t that great. Sugar has about 16 kilojoules (kj) per gram while maltitol has 12kj per gram. So, in all honesty, you’d be better off eating the full-sugar version instead minus the tummy problems.

READ MORE: 4 Natural Sweeteners To Try If You’re Not A Fan Of Honey

2/ Sorbitol

Sorbitol is commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum. While the KJ in sorbitol is very low at around 10,8, it does have similar side-effects to maltitol. These include dehydration, diarrhoea and high blood sugar levels.

3/ Artificial sweeteners

Neotame, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, and Sucralose are other common artificial sweeteners. Sucralose and aspartame being the most commonly used of all. These sweeteners tend to taste sweeter than actual sugar, so they are a great alternative if you are looking to cut down on sugar. But if you are a diabetic they can worsen glucose intolerance and are associated with an increased risk for obesity.

The Bottom Line

So while sugar-free sweets might be technically sugar-free, they can still affect your blood sugar levels due to carbs. If you are going to have some sugar-free gummies be sure that it’s in moderation or you might just find yourself having to stock up on the toilet paper too.

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