By measuring blood glucose levels 1 and 2 hours after your meals, you can get a feel for how different foods and patterns of eating affect your blood glucose levels. You most likely will begin to think about your total carbohydrate intake and how it changes your blood glucose levels. If you plan to eat a certain amount of carbohydrates each day or at a particular meal, you may find that if you eat too many sugary foods, you’ll only get to eat a few of the more nutritious - and often more filling - starchy foods.

Calorie-free sugar substitutes do not raise blood glucose levels because they don’t contain any carbohydrates.

These include artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Nutrasweet), acesulfame-K, sucralose (Splenda), and saccharin. Some sugar alcohols, which serve as sugar substitutes, have calories and are absorbed into the blood. These include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. They are usually absorbed more slowly than glucose and usually cause a smaller rise in blood glucose levels than glucose or sucrose. But beware. If you eat these sweeteners in large amounts (more than 20 to 50 grams, or 2/3 to 1 2/3 ounces in a day), you may experience intestinal distress and diarrhea. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that has fewer calories and fewer digestive side effects.

Get in the habit of reading the labels of all the foods you eat. You may be surprised. Many foods that have low-calorie sweeteners in them, such as diet desserts, often contain starches, other sugars, fats, and proteins. These substances contribute calories and can cause blood glucose levels to rise.

Also watch out for low-fat and no-fat items. Often, these products have ingredients added that can affect blood glucose levels. Many of these ingredients are modified forms of carbohydrate that are used as emulsifiers or bulking agents.

For example, maltodextrin and polydextrose can be found in products such as sugar-free, nonfat yogurt or low-fat pudding   or   ice   cream. 

Maltodextrin   is digested like a carbohydrate and provides 4 calories per gram. Polydextrose for the most part passes through the body, so it only has 1 calorie per gram.  Maltodextrins, because they are absorbed, have some   effect   on   blood   glucose   level, whereas polydextrose has very little effect.

You should be aware that even if a product is labeled as low calorie, low sugar, or sugar free, it may contain substances that raise glucose in the blood. It can be difficult to understand what some of the ingredients are.  Ask your dietitian what ingredients to look for.

Artificial sweeteners give you the sweet taste of sugar without its calories and without raising your blood glucose levels. One packet gives the same sweetness as two teaspoons of table sugar.

Artificial sweeteners are okay for everyone, young or old, except that pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use saccharin and people with phenylketonuria should not use aspartame.

Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Robert M. Anderson, EdD
Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center
University of Michigan Medical School
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Shereen Arent, JD
National Director of Legal Advocacy
American Diabetes Association

American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes

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