A good alternative to sugar?

An HSI member named Edward (who has been reading his “Nutritional Facts” panels) sent an e-mail with this important question:

“There seems to be a recent explosion of new ‘foods’ that claim to be with ‘no sugar.’ These include all kinds of chocolates, cookies and candy. When I look at the nutrient section of the box it lists the carbohydrates which are just as great as the sugar version of the food. All the carbohydrates are provided by such things as maltitol or lactitol, which are sugar alcohols. Are these any better than sugar – or is this another swindle on the American consumer? The answer is very important to the millions of diabetics including myself.”

You’re right, Edward, the answer is important. And you’re not getting swindled, but you do still have to beware.

Sugar alcohols (such as maltitol, lactitol, xylitol, and sorbitol) are hydrogenated sugars distilled from fruits, berries, milk, and corn. Like fiber and glycerine, sugar alcohols have fewer calories than table sugar (sucrose), and far less of an impact on blood sugar levels.

In the e-Alert “Nothing But Net” (6/17/03) I told you how to determine the “net carbs,” or rather the carbohydrates that create a spike in blood sugar. Subtract grams of fiber, sugar alcohols and glycerine from the total carbohydrates – your total is net carbs. For instance: say a low carb brownie has 10 grams of carbohydrates, with 2 grams of sugar alcohols and 2 grams of fiber. The total net carbs: 6.

But here’s the catch: Sugar alcohols are poorly absorbed by the body, so if you ingest too many grams too quickly you may experience gas or diarrhea. How many grams of sugar alcohol are too many? The answer to that would vary from person to person. So the rule of thumb would be to not overdo it.

This also points up the fact that what you’re dealing with here is a processed food, as opposed to a whole food. Your chances of getting better nutrition with fewer adverse side effects are always better with fresh whole foods.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute