Managing cravings for sugary treats can be tough, especially for individuals with type 2 diabetes. It's crucial for them to monitor and regulate their carbohydrate intake, which includes sugars.
Sugar alternatives present an opportunity to enjoy sweetness while facilitating better management of carbohydrate consumption and blood glucose levels. Numerous such alternatives are available; however, they differ in caloric content and their effects on blood glucose levels.
If you have type 2 diabetes and are contemplating which sugar alternatives to select, bear in mind that there are two primary categories:
- Nutritive Sweeteners: These contain calories and can influence blood sugar levels.
- Nonnutritive Sweeteners: These are virtually calorie-free and, based on research, do not lead to a spike in blood sugar. They're significantly sweeter than regular table sugar (sucrose).
However, even when opting for zero-calorie sweeteners, it's advisable to use them sparingly. A study suggests that synthetic sweeteners can modify the brain's reaction to sweet flavors, potentially hampering the sensation of fullness from sweet foods or beverages. This might lead to excessive consumption. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) even advises against substituting sugary drinks with zero or low-calorie alternatives in the long run. Instead, it encourages minimizing the intake of all sweetened beverages and increasing water consumption.
In this article, we explore the most suitable low-calorie sweeteners for individuals with diabetes.
Derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, Stevia is a natural sweetener. Its sweetness is attributed to chemical compounds named steviol glycosides extracted from the plant's leaves.
Once refined and purified, the resultant sweetener is approximately 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar, meaning only a tiny quantity is necessary to enhance the sweetness of food.
There are various advantages and drawbacks of Stevia for those with diabetes. On the positive side, Stevia is devoid of calories and doesn't lead to a rise in blood glucose levels. On the flip side, it can be pricier compared to other sugar alternatives.
Some individuals detect a slightly bitter aftertaste with Stevia. Consequently, to enhance its flavor, manufacturers sometimes incorporate other sugars or ingredients, which might not make it the best choice for diabetics. Some consumers have also noted feelings of nausea, abdominal discomfort, and bloating after ingesting Stevia.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed sweeteners derived from high-purity steviol glycosides as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). However, the FDA still needs to give raw stevia leaves and their unrefined extracts the same designation. As such, these products aren't approved for sale or import in the U.S.
As per the FDA's guidelines, the permissible daily intake (ADI) for Stevia stands at 4 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of an individual's body weight. This means a 60 kg (or 132 lb) individual can safely have up to 9 servings of the tabletop variant of Stevia each day.
2. Yacon Syrup
Sourced from the roots of the yacon plant, indigenous to the Andes mountains of South America, yacon syrup stands out as a sweetener enriched with fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS is a type of soluble fiber that acts as nourishment for the bacteria in your gut, thereby functioning as prebiotics.
While some studies have delved into the potential weight loss benefits of yacon syrup, its primary advantage lies in its abundant fiber content that aids in stabilizing glucose levels. The syrup has a notably low glycemic index, recorded at 1.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes yacon syrup as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). While there's no officially determined acceptable daily intake (ADI) for yacon syrup, it's widely accepted that consuming up to 20 grams of FOS daily is deemed safe.
Regarding culinary applications, yacon syrup can be substituted for honey, maple syrup, or molasses in baking and cooking. Its appearance and flavor resemble molasses, boasting a rich, caramel-like sweetness, making it an excellent addition to baked products, sauces, and desserts.
3. Monk Fruit
Originating from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo, is a favorable sugar substitute especially beneficial for those with diabetes. Derived from a specific type of dried melon, this extract boasts no calories no carbohydrates and possesses a sweetness level approximately 150 times that of regular sugar. Moreover, it doesn't elevate blood sugar levels, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetic individuals.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated monk fruit as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), emphasizing its safety for universal consumption without reported adverse effects. Currently, there's no established acceptable daily intake (ADI) for monk fruit, primarily because the amounts utilized as a food sweetener are significantly lower than the levels demonstrated to be safe.
Although it's been a staple in TCM for millennia, known for its anti-inflammatory properties and its effectiveness against sore throats, comprehensive long-term scientific research validating these uses is still pending.
Monk fruit-sweetened products are gaining popularity, with items like Monk Fruit In the Raw and Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener emerging in the market, both in powdered form.
When employing monk fruit in baking, its heightened sweetness means you'll require much less than regular sugar. This could alter the baking duration, as well as the end product's consistency and color. Some users might detect a subtle aftertaste, but many believe its benefits overshadow these minor drawbacks.
4. Acesulfame Potassium
Commonly referred to as Ace-K, this artificial sweetener has received approval from the FDA and is approximately 200 times sweeter than traditional sugar. It's frequently mixed with other sweeteners by manufacturers, but it's also available as a stand-alone tabletop sweetener under the brand name Sweet One. Popular low-calorie beverages, such as Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Diet Mountain Dew, incorporate it as an ingredient.
Some animal studies have raised potential concerns regarding Ace-K. For instance, a study involving mice found that Ace-K consumption could lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiota, termed gut dysbiosis. Another research effort targeting human subjects speculated that high intake during pregnancy might be associated with premature birth.
As for daily intake guidelines, the FDA suggests an upper limit of 15 mg of Ace-K per kilogram of body weight. This means that a person weighing 132 pounds must ingest roughly 23 packets of this sweetener daily to reach this maximum threshold.
5. Agave Nectar
Originating from the agave plant, various brands often present agave nectar or syrup as a healthier sugar substitute. However, due to its sugar composition, it's not an ideal choice for people with diabetes.
The primary sugar component in agave nectar is fructose. This fruit-derived sugar metabolizes more slowly than sucrose, making it less prone to triggering rapid surges in blood sugar. Consequently, agave syrup receives a relatively low glycemic index (GI) score.
Yet, for those with diabetes, the GI is not the sole metric of concern. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) highlights agave nectar as a type of “added sugar” that individuals with diabetes should be cautious about, similar to other sugars like corn syrup, honey, and conventional table sugar. Excessive intake of these added sugars has been linked to conditions such as prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and increased obesity risk.
Allulose, often referred to as D-psicose, falls under the category of rare sugars due to its limited occurrence in nature. It can be found in certain foods like wheat, figs, and molasses.
Many find the taste and consistency of allulose reminiscent of regular table sugar. Its sweetness level is roughly 70% that of sugar, aligning with the sweetness of erythritol, another commonly used sweetener.
Chemically, while both glucose and fructose are monosaccharides (single sugars), allulose is also a monosaccharide. In contrast, conventional table sugar, known as sucrose, is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose.
Interestingly, even though allulose shares its chemical formula with fructose, their structural arrangement differs. This distinct configuration means that the body doesn't metabolize allulose in the same manner as fructose.
Of the allulose ingested, about 70% gets absorbed into the bloodstream via the digestive system. However, it's then excreted through urine without being harnessed for energy.
Furthermore, allulose is a low-calorie alternative, offering merely 0.2–0.4 calories per gram, which is about a tenth of the caloric content of regular sugar.
For individuals managing diabetes or keeping an eye on their blood sugar, it's worth noting that allulose doesn't seem to elevate blood sugar or insulin levels. Studies also indicate the potential benefits of allulose, suggesting its anti-inflammatory attributes and its potential role in obesity prevention and reducing chronic disease risk.
While only a few natural sources possess trace amounts of this unique sugar, recent technological advancements have enabled manufacturers to transform fructose into allulose using specific enzymes.
Saccharin can be found under various brand names, including Sweet Twin, Sweet’N Low, and Necta Sweet. It boasts a calorie-free profile and a sweetness potency ranging from 200 to 700 times that of regular sugar.
In the 1970s, the FDA flagged safety concerns regarding saccharin following research that associated its consumption with bladder cancer in lab rats.
However, the passage of time and the undertaking of over 30 human-centric studies have reinforced saccharin's safety. The National Institutes of Health have revised their stance, asserting that saccharin poses no cancer risk.
As for consumption guidelines, the FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for saccharin at 15 mg/kg of body weight. This implies that an individual weighing 60 kg (approximately 132 lb) can safely intake up to 45 sachets of the tabletop variant of saccharin daily.
Sucralose serves as a suitable sweetener choice for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Commercially known by the brand name Splenda, this sweetener stands out with its potency, being 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar.
Furthermore, the majority of consumed Splenda is excreted from the body without significant absorption. Such characteristics have propelled it to become the predominant artificial sweetener on a global scale, as cited in certain publications.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its nod to sucralose. They've set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for sucralose at 5 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight. For perspective, an individual weighing about 132 pounds would have to consume around 23 sachets of this tabletop sweetener to reach the prescribed limit.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed sucralose safe for consumption, it should be used in moderation. Overconsumption might lead to digestive discomfort in some individuals. Furthermore, regularly using high amounts of any sweetener can alter one's taste preferences, making naturally sweet foods less appealing. As with many substances, striking a balance is key to maintaining both health and enjoyment.
Note for People Living with Diabetes
For those grappling with diabetes, early action and a proactive approach can make all the difference, potentially warding off complications like diabetic neuropathy. While lifestyle changes are foundational, there's an array of treatments, from holistic therapies to modern medicines, awaiting discovery. And let's not overlook the simple power of quality foot care.
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