Sugar-free products pervade the grocery shelves in numerous quantities. All of your favorite sugary foods seem to have a sugar-free counter-part. If you are a diabetic or a particularly health conscious individual, sugar-free alternatives may be a very attractive option to you. Buyer beware, not all sugar-free is sugar free!
What am I talking about? One of the biggest misconceptions about the diabetic diet is the notion that “sugar-free” will not contribute to your blood sugar level. From my experience I’d venture to say as many as 75% of diabetic patients do not truly understand the effect of carbohydrates in your body.
If you look at the nutrition label on any food containing package, you will discover the amount of carbohydrates contained in the product. Below the word “carbohydrates”, you will find sugar content. Sugar content is a sub-category of overall carbohydrates. Many diabetics are not aware that sugar content is only a portion of overall carbohydrate content.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Simple carbohydrates might as well be sugar. Within an hour of consuming a simple carbohydrate, your body has broken the molecule down to glucose. In turn, blood sugar levels will peak. Simple carbohydrates include foods such as plain white bread, white pasta, and white rice. Any food made from non-whole grain flour is considered a simple carbohydrate.
Complex carbohydrates are larger, more complex molecules. Therefore, your body takes a greater amount of time to turn these molecules into glucose. In turn, your blood sugar levels will not peak, but instead will be more broad over the course of hours. Complex carbohydrates come from food made with whole-grain flour and contains fiber. Whole-grain bread, whole-grain pastas, and whole-grain cereals are considered complex carbohydrates.
Want a good example? Sugar-free cookies are a great example of a “sugar-free” snack that will still contribute to high blood sugar. When looking at the nutrition label or ingredients, you may see there is no sugar. This is deceiving. Take a look at the carbohydrates, which should be similar to cookies with full-sugar content. Flour is in the recipe. Since the cookies are most likely high in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber, blood sugar levels will peak regardless of the lack of sugar. Sugar-free cakes, cookies, and candy may all follow the same concept. Of course 1 or 2 cookies won’t be a problem, but diabetics tend to over-indulge in seemingly “sugar-free” products.
What should you buy? When selecting bread, rice, and pasta products, be sure to take a look at the nutrition label. Fiber and carbohydrates are the 2 main categories important for glucose control. With today’s marketing, it is hard to tell which products are truly whole-grain and which are disguised as whole-grain. Whole-grain white breads, in some cases, may be a healthier choice than simple wheat bread based on fiber content. Look at the nutrition label! Fiber content is a primary indicator of a healthy bread for diabetics. Fiber aids in slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates, keeping blood glucose levels steady over time.
As far as other food choices for diabetics, it is always important to check the nutrition label. If the label shows a low carbohydrate count, then generally this is good food choice. Every food choice should still be taken in moderation. As a disclaimer, please consult your nutritionist or physician for your personal diabetes management plan.
Overall, it is important to know which foods may contribute to your blood sugar levels as a diabetic. Educate yourself, make good choices, and stay healthy!
Source: American Diabetes Association, Livestrong.com, easy-sugar-free-recipes.com