Learning About Artificial Sweetners

There are several alternatives to sugar that are safe for patients with diabetes.  These alternatives are “artificial” sweeteners such as Splenda (sucralose), Sweet ‘N Low (saccharin), and Equal (aspartame).  There is also a “natural” sweetener that comes from the Stevia plant, which is commonly sold as Truvia (Stevia).  These sweeteners are appropriate for people who do not want to add extra calories or increase their blood sugars from added sugar.

Although there has been some controversy surrounding the safety of artificial sweeteners, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed the three artificial sweeteners mentioned above as safe for consumption.  Artificial sweeteners are more than 100 times sweeter than sugar, so you need to use a much smaller amount compared to sugar.  According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), artificial sweeteners, with the exception of aspartame, are not broken down in the body.  Because these artificial sweeteners are not broken down in the body, they do not contain any calories.  Unless you consume a very large amount of artificial sweeteners at one time, they do not have any effect on your blood sugar.  Aspartame contains 4 calories per gram.  It is used in very small amounts and has little impact on blood sugar.  Stevia, the natural sweetener, also contains no calories and has no impact on blood sugar.

There are thousands of diabetes-friendly recipes on the internet that use these sweeteners.  There are even products you can buy at the grocery store that use sweeteners instead of sugar.  However, just because a recipe or product doesn’t use sugar, it doesn’t always mean that it is healthy and won’t affect your blood sugar.  There are several things to watch out for when you look for a pre-made sweet treat or a diabetes-friendly recipe.

  1. First, look at the sweetener. Sometimes, recipes claim to be diabetes-friendly but use just as much sugar as a typical recipe would.  Watch out for ingredients like corn syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, honey, and evaporated cane juice. However, just because a recipe is not labeled as diabetes-friendly, it doesn’t mean that you cannot make it and enjoy it.  You can substitute the sugar in the recipe with an artificial sweetener.  It is important to remember that artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, so when substituting for sugar with an artificial sweetener, you need to use less than the recipe calls for.  Most artificial sweeteners will tell you how to substitute for sugar on the package.  There are also many resources online that can help you learn about baking with artificial sweeteners.
  2. Second, look at the other ingredients. Look for ingredients that may cause an increase in blood sugar.  Some examples of ingredients that may increase your blood sugar are white flour, rice flour, and raisins.  If a product uses an artificial sweetener, it does not mean that the rest of the ingredients are diabetes-friendly.
  3. Third, look at the nutritional panel. Look at the number of carbohydrates and grams of sugar.  If you are looking at a recipe online or in a book and would like to know the nutritional information, there are websites that allow you to input the ingredients.  The website, such as myfitnesspal.com, will then give you the nutritional information, just like the nutritional panel on a product from the grocery store.

As long as you take the time to read nutrition panels and ingredient lists, artificial sweeteners are a good alternative to sugar for patients with diabetes.

This Article is Brought to you By Our Guest Staff Writers:
Paulina Patsios, PharmD Candidate 2016, MCPHS University
Damian Bialonczyk, PharmD‎, MBA, Fellow, MCPHS University‎ ‎‎
Jennifer Goldman, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM, FCCP, Professor of Pharmacy Practice, MCPHS University, Clinical Pharmacist, Well Life Medical, Peabody‎