The Truth About “Sugar-Free” Foods

Eating foods labeled as “sugar-free” often seems like a smart choice for weight loss or blood sugar control. But are these foods really as healthy as their marketing claims?

Why Blood Sugar Matters

Your body works hard to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. The hormones insulin and glucagon help shuttle glucose into or out of your cells as needed. Occasional blood sugar spikes are normal and easily handled. But frequent spikes from high-sugar foods cause your body to overproduce insulin over time. This can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and trouble losing weight.

Therefore, when trying to control blood sugar or lose weight, it’s best to avoid foods that spike blood sugar. While this concept is straightforward, it gets tricky when your favorite treats are loaded with sugar. This is where “sugar-free” versions can seem like the perfect solution. But do they actually help you avoid blood sugar spikes? I decided to put them to the test.

Pecan Delights: Not So Delightful?

The pecan delights contained 0g added sugar. However, they did contain 14g of sugar alcohols including maltitol.

Sugar alcohols provide sweetness without added sugar. They also don’t raise blood sugar as much as regular sugar. However, some sugar alcohols like maltitol still impact blood glucose levels.

After eating the pecan delights, my blood sugar rose 35 mg/dL over 2 hours. This earned a Levels score of 4 out of 10. For comparison, Levels’ optimal blood sugar rise is under 30 mg/dL.

So while not a dramatic spike, the pecan delights did notably raise my blood sugar despite being labeled as sugar-free. Someone with insulin resistance or diabetes would likely see an even higher rise.

The Gut Truth About Sugar Alcohols

Both snacks owed their sweet taste largely to sugar alcohols like maltitol. Sugar alcohols provide sweetness without spiking blood sugar as dramatically as plain sugar. This makes them popular for use in reduced sugar foods.

However, not all sugar alcohols are created equal. Some, like maltitol and maltitol syrup, still raise blood glucose and insulin levels significantly. Yet thanks to sugar alcohols being subtracted from total carbs when calculating net carbs, these impacts can be downplayed.

Why do companies use these sneaky sweeteners so often? Sugar alcohols are far cheaper than other natural, low-calorie sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit. So while sugar alcohols allow the labeling claims companies want, they provide less benefit to your health. Always check for maltitol and other high glycemic sugar alcohols on ingredient lists.

Some people tolerate sugar alcohols well, but they are infamous for causing digestive distress. The body can’t fully absorb them, so they get fermented by gut bacteria. This leads to gas, bloating, and diarrhea. I personally felt pretty awful in the hours after eating each snack.

So along with undermining blood sugar control, gastrointestinal side effects are another key downside of sugar alcohols to consider. While sugar-free treats may seem tempting for weight loss, the aftermath is often far from sweet.

Read Labels Closely

While the blood sugar spikes from these snacks weren’t outrageous, they show that “sugar-free” doesn’t equal worry-free. Sweeteners like sugar alcohols can still raise blood glucose and stall weight loss goals.

It’s frustrating when trying to make healthy swaps. But remember, you can take control by reading labels closely and testing your own responses.

Scrutinize ingredient lists for sneaky sources of sugar like maltitol, honey, coconut sugar, cane syrup, fruit juice concentrate, etc. Look at the total carbs, fiber, and sugar alcohols to get the full picture. And be wary of marketing hype on the front of packs.

When possible, opt for whole, minimally processed foods without added sweeteners. Enjoy treats made with truly low glycemic sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, or allulose in moderation. You may need to experiment with different brands or recipes to find options that don’t spike your blood sugar. It takes some extra effort, but discovering treats you can enjoy guilt-free is worth it.

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