The Skinny on Sugar

Author: Lindsey Ulrich

 different types of sugars

If you are someone living with diabetes and are trying to eat healthier, watching your carbohydrate intake will be part of the process. Carbohydrates are essential food nutrients your body turns into glucose to fuel your body.

Complex carbs burn more steadily and are less likely to cause blood glucose levels to spike. These are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grain products such as brown rice and oatmeal. Simple carbs are quickly broken down in the body, resulting in a fast spike then drop in blood glucose levels. Simple carbs can occur naturally in fruit and milk, or during processing where sugar is added to products such as soda, sweets, and baked goods.

“A healthy goal for sugar intake is to not exceed 100 calories per day or 24 grams of sugar for women, 150 calories a day or 36 grams of sugar for men, and 12-25 grams per day for children,” said Martha Quain, registered dietitian at McLaren Greater Lansing.

There are many options to add sweetness to your food, but the topic of sugar substitutes can be confusing, and you also need to know which products can impact your blood glucose levels. Artificial sweeteners may be derived from naturally occurring plants or herbs and marketed as "natural" even though they are processed or refined and may contain other sweeteners.  

"Consumers should focus on food labels to identify the total carbohydrates a food provides in a specific portion size, and note the sugar and fiber content that are part of that total carbohydrate." 

“Consumers should focus on food labels to identify the total carbohydrates a food provides in a specific portion size, and note the sugar and fiber content that are part of that total carbohydrate,” said Quain. “The sugar on a label represents the amount that is added during the processing of a food, or it can be from a fruit or vegetable source when it is being used as a sweetener.”

Reaching for whole foods such as fruits and vegetables will provide the most nutrition. But you can also satisfy your sweet tooth by finding healthier alternatives and indulging occasionally and in moderation. 

Natural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often promoted as healthier options than sugar or other artificial sweeteners. These include honey, molasses, maple syrup and fruit juices. Even though these products are considered “natural,” they may undergo processing.

Sugar Substitutes sugar substitutes

Sugar substitutes are considered nonnutritive artificial sweeteners, meaning the product contains little to no calories in a serving. They are typically sweeter than sugar and won’t impact blood glucose levels. The FDA reviews sugar substitutes and has approved many products that they recognize as safe for the public. Examples include: 

  • Advantame
  • Aspartame (Equal®)
  • Luo Han Guo fruit extracts (Monk fruit)
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin (Sweet’n Low®)
  • Steviol glycosides (Truvia®)
  • Sucralose (Splenda®)

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that can be manufactured as well as occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. While sugar alcohols generally aren't used when you prepare food at home, they can be found in many foods labeled "sugar free" or "no sugar added.” Sugar alcohols are still a form of carbohydrate and can impact blood glucose levels. You will want to check the nutrition facts label for carbohydrates and calories. The label may list the specific name, such as sorbitol or isomalt or may use the general term "sugar alcohol.”

“It’s important to not eat too much or too little of any one type of food so that we can meet our daily requirements,” said Quain. “We don't just eat our food for energy, but we also need to remember the many vitamins and minerals that are important to keep our bodies healthy.”

McLaren Greater Lansing offers educational services for both diabetes management and nutritional guidance with a registered dietitian to assist in establishing a healthy weight, improve healthy outcomes, and quality of life. For those interested in learning more about our on-site nutritional counseling options, click here or call 517-975-2270.