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Artificial Sweeteners

The Basics of Sweeteners

Most people with diabetes are all too aware of the sugar they consume on a daily basis. But sweeteners can turn up in foods that you least expect. Learning the differences between natural and artificial sweeteners can help you make informed decisions about your diet.

Never assume that a food labeled "sugar-free," "no sugar added" or "low-calorie" doesn’t contain carbs! Foods bearing these labels may still contain natural sweeteners that have calories called sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, erythritol, glycerol or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.

Always count the number of carbs on the nutrition label rather than assuming that a food can be eaten freely.

  • Natural (nutritive) sweeteners: Sugars such as glucose, sucrose or fructose are found naturally in fruits, vegetables and other plants. Some plants, like sugarcane, contain so much sugar that their juices can be turned into sugar crystals or syrup.

    This syrup is most commonly added to sodas, fruit drinks, desserts and candy. Some studies have suggested that high fructose corn syrup in particular might increase appetite and hunger in ways that other natural sweeteners do not.

    Natural sweeteners are also known as nutritive sweeteners, because they provide energy in the form of carbohydrates.
  • Artificial (non-nutritive) sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners are man-made and are not derived from plants or other foods. Rather, they've been engineered by scientists to taste just as sweet — or hundreds of times more sweet— than table sugar. Almost one in every three American adults, and more than one in six children, consume artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, saccharin or aspartame, at least once a day, most often in beverages, yogurts, condiments, snacks and desserts.

    Because artificial sweeteners do not contain carbohydrates, they are known as non-nutritive sweeteners.

Sugar by Any Other Name

When you sweeten your morning coffee, what do you reach for? If you’re like most people, you’re probably loyal to a certain color — perhaps you prefer blue packets of sweetener, or maybe pink. But have you given thought to what those colors mean?

The brand names below are intended as a reference and for educational purposes only.

Aspartame (Equal™ and NutraSweet™)

  • Blue packets

  • Contain the artificial sweetener aspartame

  • About 200 times sweeter than sugar

Sucralose (Splenda™)

  • Yellow packets

  • Contains the artificial sweetener sucralose

  • About 600 times sweeter than sugar

 Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low™)

  • Pink packets

  • Contains the artificial sweetener saccharin

  • About 300 times sweeter than sugar

 Stevia (Truvia™)

  • White and green packets

  • Contains the natural sweetener stevia, extracted from the stevia leaf

  • About 250 times sweeter than sugar

What it all means

Foods and drinks advertised as "diet," “low-calorie" and "sugar-free" can help with weight loss, as long as you don’t overeat the foods.

Doctors recommend avoiding candy and instead drinking water or low-fat milk in place of fruit drinks or soda. If you choose fruit juice, consider diluting it with water to reduce the sugar content.

Above all else, people with diabetes should pay careful attention to the carbohydrate content of foods and drinks, rather than relying on the advertising labels alone.

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