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The ABC's of Sugar Substitutes

A sugar substitute is a food additive that tastes like sugar, but has either few or no calories.  Sugar substitutes can be very useful to people with diabetes.  Gillian Arathuzik, R.D., C.D.E., Nutrition Diabetes Educator, at Joslin Diabetes Center, goes over the basics of sugar substitutes and how they can impact your blood glucose levels when you have diabetes.

Artificial Sweeteners

Synthetic sugar substitutes are referred to as artificial sweeteners and have more intense sweetness than sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been controversial as to whether or not they pose any health risks, but so far no studies have conclusively found any and each sweetener is FDA approved. Some commonly used artificial sweeteners include:

  • Aspartame (Equal):  200 times as sweet as sugar.  No effect on blood glucose levels.

  • Sucralose (Splenda):  600 times as sweet as sugar.  Contains about 1 g carb per packet or teaspoon and could affect blood glucose levels if you consume a large quantity at one time.

  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low):  300-500 times as sweet as sugar.  No effect on blood glucose levels.

  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett or Sweet One): 300 times as sweet as sugar.  No effect on blood glucose levels.

Artificial sweeteners each have an acceptable daily intake (ADI). This can help a person determine how much of each sweetener to consume. “I recommend either Aspartame or Sucralose depending on a person’s taste preference and recommend using either in moderation,” Arathuzik says.

Sugar Alcohols

Natural sugar substitutes are known as sugar alcohols.  Sugar alcohols are typically less sweet than sugar and provide half the calories of sugar. They are used in many sugar-free products and energy bars.  Since half the carbohydrate of sugar alcohols is not absorbed by the body, you can subtract half the sugar alcohol grams from the total carb grams when doing carb counting with diabetes.

If you have any questions about sugar substitutes, make an appointment with a Joslin Registered Dietitian by calling (617) 732-2400.

Page last updated: March 27, 2015