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Artificial sweeteners and diabetes

It is a myth that people with diabetes can’t have any sugar at all. As well as cutting back on sugar, using artificial sweeteners is one solution for people with diabetes and a sweet tooth.

What is an artificial sweetener?

You may hear many names for sweeteners: sugars, reduced-calorie sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners. Only some of these sweeteners are "artificial." Use this list to compare sweeteners:

  • Sugars are naturally occurring carbohydrates. They contain calories and raise your blood glucose levels -- the level of sugar in your blood. Examples are brown sugar, cane sugar, powdered sugar, fructose, honey and molasses.
  • Reduced-calorie sweeteners are sugar alcohols. These sweeteners have about half the calories of sugars and are considered a separate type of carbohydrates. They can raise your blood sugar levels, although not as much as other carbohydrates. Examples include isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. You'll often find these reduced-calorie sweeteners in sugar-free sweets and chewing gum.
  • Low-calorie sweeteners are "artificial." This means they were created in a lab rather than found naturally. Low-calorie sweeteners are considered "free foods." They have no calories and do not raise your blood sugar levels.

Types of artificial sweeteners for diabetes patients

Five non-nutritive sweeteners are approved for use in the UK. They are: aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K), cyclamate and sucralose. Diabetes UK says they don’t affect blood glucose levels or cause tooth decay and "they can be helpful for people who are trying to manage their weight to sweeten drinks or as a table sweetener on cereal for example."

Finding artificial sweeteners for diabetes patients in prepared foods

No sugar, low-sugar, naturally sweetened, no added sugar -- the list of what you encounter on products while shopping can be overwhelming. Use this "cheat sheet" to identify which products are sweetened the way you want them.

  • No sugar means the product does not contain sugar at all. It may contain sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners.
  • No added sugar means that during processing, no extra sugar was added. However, the original source might have contained sugar such as fructose in fruit juice. Additional sweeteners such as sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners might have been added.
  • Sugar free means that the product contains no sugars. It may contain sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners, however.
  • ' Diabetic food'. Since July 2016, manufacturers can no longer label products as ‘diabetic’ or ‘suitable for diabetics’. Diabetes UK had campaigned for this change saying these usually 'treat' foods like chocolates and biscuits and offer no benefit to people with diabetes. The charity said they were expensive, often contained as much fat and calories as the ordinary versions, may cause a laxative effect and will still affect blood glucose levels.
  • All natural simply means that the product does not contain artificial ingredients. It may contain natural sweeteners, such as sugars or sugar alcohol.
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