Managing diabetes means paying close attention to what you eat, especially regarding sugar. Most foods found in grocery stores have extra sugar that can spike blood sugar levels. In fact, a study found that 68% of processed foods in grocery stores contain added sugar, making it challenging for those with diabetes to maintain a healthy diet.

Imagine finding almost every snack, sauce, or bread laced with sugar when what you need is to control your intake. Constant exposure to products with high sugar content makes it difficult to maintain a healthy diet and can lead to dangerous health complications.

Fortunately, there are safe and tasty alternatives that won’t harm your blood sugar levels. In this article, we will provide you with a better understanding of sugar substitutes and some of the best options for diabetics.

So, let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Sucralose, or Splenda, is a commonly used sugar substitute that doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. This makes it a suitable option for people with diabetes. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and can be added to various foods without increasing calorie intake.
  • Saccharin, marketed as Sweet’N Low, is a sweetener that has been in use for over a century. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. Extensive studies have been conducted on saccharin, and the FDA has deemed it safe for consumption. Therefore, it is a good option for people who want to manage their sugar intake without affecting their blood glucose levels.
  • Aspartame is a safe sweetener for the general population, except for individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU). It does not increase blood glucose or insulin levels, which makes it suitable for people with diabetes who want to enjoy sweet foods and drinks without worrying about their blood sugar levels.
  • Stevia, sold under Truvia and Pure Via, is a natural sweetener derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is much sweeter than sugar and does not impact blood sugar levels, making it an ideal choice for those with diabetes. Unlike sugar, Stevia is stable under heat, which makes it a versatile sweetening option for cooking and baking.
  • Sugar alcohols, such as Xylitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, and Erythritol, are sweeteners that provide fewer calories than sugar and have a lower glycemic impact. This makes them beneficial for blood sugar management. However, consuming large amounts of sugar alcohol may cause digestive issues.
  • Allulose is a rare sugar with only 0.4 calories per gram, significantly lower than regular sugar. It does not raise blood sugar levels and has been deemed safe by the FDA, offering a promising alternative for sugar reduction. Allulose may be particularly helpful for diabetics who need to manage their carbohydrate intake.

Understanding Sugar Substitutes / Sweeteners

Sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners, or nonnutritive sweeteners, provide the sweetness of sugar without the calories. They are much sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is needed to sweeten foods. Foods made with artificial sweeteners may have fewer calories than those made with sugar.

These substitutes do not affect blood sugar levels and are considered “free foods,” containing less than 20 calories and 5 grams or less of carbohydrates. However, other ingredients in foods with artificial sweeteners can still impact blood sugar levels. Some studies suggest that replacing sugar-sweetened foods and beverages with artificially sweetened ones may not be as beneficial as once thought, especially when consumed in large amounts. More research is needed to understand their effects fully.

Best Sugar Substitutes for People with Diabetes

Below are the best sugar alternatives for those with diabetes:

Sucralose (Splenda)

sucralose in a bottle and a small bowl

Sucralose, commonly known as Splenda, is a popular sweetener since it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. It’s about 600 times sweeter than table sugar, which means only a tiny amount is needed to provide the same level of sweetness. This high sweetness allows diabetics to enjoy sweet-tasting foods without risking their blood glucose. Sucralose is calorie-free, making it a good choice for managing calorie intake.

The FDA has thoroughly evaluated sucralose and confirms it does not impact blood sugar levels, a key benefit for diabetics. Approved by the FDA in 1998 for use in 15 food categories and as a general-purpose sweetener in 1999, sucralose has undergone extensive testing. Over 110 studies, including those on metabolism, carcinogenicity, and effects on the nervous system, affirm its safety and efficacy. These studies also include human clinical trials that examine the way sucralose affects individuals with diabetes, ensuring it is a safe choice for their dietary needs.

Sucralose is used across a wide range of food products, including baked goods, beverages, and desserts, which are often heat-treated. Its stability under heat ensures that its sweetness remains consistent during cooking or baking. For diabetics, using sucralose can make it easier to enjoy a varied diet without affecting their blood sugar levels. This flexibility in food choices, combined with the safety reassurance from the FDA, makes sucralose a reliable and beneficial sugar substitute for those managing diabetes.

Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)

Sucralose (Splenda)

Saccharin, often known by brand names like Sweet’N Low, has been a sugar substitute for over a century. Originally discovered in 1879, saccharin is 200 to 700 times sweeter than regular table sugar (sucrose) and contains no calories. This makes it particularly appealing for diabetics, as it does not raise blood sugar levels. It’s widely used in products marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet,” including beverages, baked goods, and other processed foods. Due to its intense sweetness, only small amounts are needed to achieve the desired sweet taste, which helps control overall calorie intake.

The safety of saccharin has been a topic of debate historically. In the early 1970s, studies suggested a possible link between saccharin and bladder cancer in laboratory rats, leading to saccharin carrying a warning label. However, subsequent research, including more than 30 human studies, showed that the results in rats did not apply to humans. This led to the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health concluding in 2000 that saccharin should be removed from its list of potential carcinogens. As a result, any product containing saccharin no longer requires a warning label.

Today, saccharin is approved by the FDA for use under specific conditions in various food and drink products. The FDA has regulated saccharin as a food additive since 1977, confirming its safety when used as directed. For those looking to manage their sugar intake while still enjoying sweet flavors, saccharin offers a well-studied, effective option. Its usage limits are well-defined, ensuring that consumption stays within safe boundaries. This careful regulation helps ensure that saccharin remains a safe choice for sugar substitution.

Aspartame

Aspartame

Aspartame is also a widely used artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Despite not being of natural origin—it’s made from two amino acids, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine—it is a popular sugar substitute in various diet sodas, low-calorie meals, and many processed foods. Its primary benefit as a nonnutritive sweetener is that it provides a sweet taste without the added calories found in sugar, making it an attractive option for individuals managing their calorie intake, including those with diabetes.

The FDA approved aspartame for use in food products in the early 1970s and has since affirmed its safety based on extensive research and review of scientific evidence. Aspartame is generally safe for the population, except for those with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU).

Individuals with PKU cannot metabolize phenylalanine, one of the amino acids present in aspartame, which can lead to dangerous levels of phenylalanine in the brain. The FDA has established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This means a person weighing 70 kilograms (about 154 pounds) can safely consume up to 3,500 milligrams of aspartame daily—equivalent to about 18 to 19 cans of a diet soda containing aspartame.

Regarding its effects on blood sugar, aspartame does not contribute to an increase in glucose levels in the blood. This characteristic benefits diabetics, allowing them to enjoy sweet foods and beverages without affecting their blood sugar levels. Studies have consistently shown that aspartame, a nonnutritive sweetener, does not impact insulin or blood glucose levels, which is crucial for managing diabetes effectively.

Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via)

Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via)

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It’s recognized for being much sweeter than sugar while having virtually no calories, which makes it a popular choice among people looking to reduce their sugar intake or manage their weight. Stevia is often sold under brand names like Truvia and Pure Via. It contains steviol glycosides, particularly stevioside, and rebaudioside, which are responsible for their sweet taste. Unlike sugar, stevia does not raise blood glucose levels, making it a beneficial option for people with diabetes. Additionally, stevia is heat-stable, pH-stable, and non-fermentable, which expands its utility in cooking and food processing.

The safety and use of stevia as a sweetener have been extensively evaluated, leading to its approval by the FDA as generally safe. This approval is specific to its highly purified forms, including stevioside and rebaudioside compounds, cleared for use in food and beverages. The FDA’s recognition came after various studies confirmed that these purified components of stevia do not contribute to adverse health effects in normal consumption amounts. For instance, studies suggest an acceptable daily intake of steviol equivalents is up to 4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Research on stevia’s effects on blood sugar and overall metabolic impact has been promising but also presents mixed results. Several studies indicate that stevia does not significantly impact blood glucose or insulin levels, which can be particularly advantageous for diabetics. For example, a study reported that consumption of stevia in a controlled trial did not significantly alter the glycemic or lipid profiles of type 2 diabetic patients compared to sucralose, another popular sweetener. This suggests that stevia can be a suitable sugar substitute for diabetics or those monitoring their blood sugar levels.

Sugar Alcohols (e.g., Xylitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Erythritol)

Sugar Alcohols (e.g., Xylitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Erythritol)

Sugar alcohols are sweeteners found in many sugar-free and low-calorie foods. Despite the name, they don’t contain ethanol like alcoholic beverages. Common types include xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, and mannitol, which are often sourced from fruits, and vegetables, or manufactured from starches. These sweeteners taste similar to sugar but have fewer calories—around 2.4 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar. This makes them popular in diabetic and keto-friendly products because they don’t spike blood sugar levels as much as regular sugar.

Studies have shown that sugar alcohols offer benefits like reduced calorie intake and a lower risk of dental decay. For example, xylitol is used in toothpaste and chewing gum because it can help prevent cavities. These sugar sweeteners also have a lower glycemic index, meaning they cause a slower rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. For instance, erythritol has almost no calories and does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels, making it a good choice for managing diabetes.

However, sugar alcohol can also cause digestive issues, especially when consumed in large amounts. The body does not fully absorb them, leading to gas, bloating, and diarrhea. A study found that people consuming more than 10 grams of sorbitol daily reported gastrointestinal discomfort. Additionally, products containing these sweeteners often carry a warning about their laxative effects, as mandated by the FDA for foods with added sorbitol or mannitol. This is especially important for sensitive individuals or those with conditions like IBS, as the effects can be more pronounced.

Monk Fruit Sweetener

Monk Fruit Sweetener

Monk fruit sweetener derived from the monk fruit or “Luo Han Guo” is another excellent sugar substitute for people with diabetes. This natural sweetener primarily contains mogrosides up to 250 times sweeter than regular sugar but has zero calories. Because of this, even a small amount of this sweetener can provide a high level of sweetness without adding calories, making it a helpful option for managing blood sugar levels and caloric intake.

Mogrosides are not recognized by the body as carbohydrates, which means they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This is essential for those managing diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes monk fruit sweeteners as safe for everyone, including diabetics. Research has shown promising results, with mogroside V, the primary sweetening component, demonstrating potential benefits such as enhancing blood glucose levels and increasing glycogen synthesis in diabetic rats.

While these studies are promising, it is crucial to note that most of the health effects, such as anti-hyperglycemic and anti-inflammatory properties, have been shown in animal models. Comprehensive human studies are still needed to endorse these findings for diabetic care fully. Therefore, while monk fruit sweetener is an excellent alternative to sugar for its zero-calorie sweetness, further research is necessary to confirm its efficacy and health benefits in humans.

Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)

Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame Potassium, or Ace-K, is another popular artificial sweetener used in various diet and sugar-free products, including diet sodas. It’s known for being 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, allowing manufacturers to use it in small amounts to achieve the desired sweetness without adding calories. This makes it an attractive option for people with diabetes who need to manage their sugar intake but still enjoy sweet-tasting foods and beverages.

Studies have evaluated the effectiveness of Ace-K for diabetics, and mixed results have been obtained. For instance, Ace-K does not raise blood sugar levels directly because it is not metabolized by the body; it passes through the system largely unchanged. This non-caloric nature means it can potentially help in weight management, a common concern for people with type 2 diabetes.

However, some research suggests that although Ace-K is safe in moderation, its impact on long-term health and blood sugar control is unclear. For example, one study mentioned in the text found that while Ace-K doesn’t affect blood glucose directly, it could influence how other foods are metabolized and potentially affect insulin response indirectly.

Concerning the safety and recommended amounts, the FDA has set an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for Ace-K at 15 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. This means that an individual weighing 68 kilograms (about 150 pounds) can safely consume 1020 milligrams of Ace-K daily—far more than is typically consumed even with regular use of products containing this sweetener, despite its approval and deemed safety by regulatory bodies, consumers especially diabetics are advised to use artificial sweeteners like Ace-K judiciously and remain mindful of their overall diet and how it might interact with their diabetes management.

Allulose

Allulose

Allulose is another type of sugar that’s gaining attention as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes. It’s a rare sugar, meaning it’s not found in large quantities in nature, but it has properties similar to regular sugar without the same caloric impact. Allulose has about 0.4 calories per gram, significantly lower than the 4 calories per gram in standard sugars like glucose and fructose. This low-calorie count is beneficial because it can sweeten foods without adding many extra calories, which is crucial for managing diabetes. Studies have shown that allulose does not raise blood sugar levels like regular sugar. For example, consuming allulose with a meal was found to help control the rise in blood sugar after eating.

The FDA recognizes allulose as safe and has specific guidelines on its use in food products. In 2019, the FDA announced that allulose does not need to be included in the total and added sugar counts on nutrition labels. This helps manufacturers keep the sugar content seemingly lower. This decision was based on research showing allulose’s minimal impact on blood glucose and insulin levels. Products containing allulose can often be found under labels like “low sugar” or “no added sugar,” making them appealing to those looking to reduce sugar intake, such as diabetics.

Nutritionally, allulose offers a promising alternative for sugar reduction in diets, particularly for individuals with diabetes who need to manage their carbohydrate intake carefully. Since it behaves like sugar in many ways, it can be used in baking and cooking, making it a versatile ingredient. However, while studies indicate allulose is effective in managing postprandial blood glucose, most of these studies involve small sample sizes, so more extensive research is needed to understand its benefits and any long-term effects fully.

Conclusion

Managing diabetes effectively involves making informed choices about sugar intake. Fortunately, various sugar substitutes are available to help diabetics enjoy sweet flavors without compromising their health. Each substitute—whether it’s sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, stevia, sugar alcohols, monk fruit sweetener, acesulfame potassium, or allulose—offers unique benefits and some considerations.

Choosing the right sugar substitute can depend on individual dietary needs, taste preferences, and health considerations. It’s always advisable for diabetics to consult with healthcare providers to understand better which options might best suit their specific condition. By integrating these substitutes into a balanced diet, diabetics can enjoy a broader range of foods while keeping their blood sugar levels stable, enhancing their overall quality of life.

FAQs About Sugar Alternatives

Which sugar is not good for diabetes?

People with diabetes struggle with high blood sugar because their body doesn’t use insulin properly. Simple sugars, like those found in sweets, can quickly spike blood sugar levels compared to complex carbs found in whole grains like wheat and oats.

What is the healthiest natural sugar?

Natural options like fresh fruits, monk fruit, raw honey, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, and blackstrap molasses sweeten your food and offer vitamins and minerals to boost your health.

Are sugar-free products good for diabetics?

Sugar-free products are generally fine for diabetics, but it’s important not to overdo it. Even these can affect your blood sugar if consumed in large amounts.

Is coconut sugar diabetic-friendly?

Coconut sugar is a natural, plant-based sweetener that may help maintain more stable blood sugar and energy levels due to its fiber content, which can slow sugar absorption.

Is zero sugar good for diabetics?

For diabetics, choosing sugar-free or zero-sugar sports drinks is a better option than sugary versions. However, limiting the amount of artificial sweeteners you consume is best.

Is muscovado sugar good for diabetics?

Muscovado sugar, which has a slightly lower impact on blood sugar levels than refined sugar, should still be used sparingly by people with diabetes because it is still sugar.

Can diabetics eat brown sugar?

Brown sugar affects people with diabetes similarly to white sugar. It should be limited to a healthy diet to reduce risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease.

Sources

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Ajami, M., Seyfi, M., Abdollah Pouri Hosseini, F., Naseri, P., Velayati, A., Mahmoudnia, F., Zahedirad, M., & Hajifaraji, M. (2020). Effects of stevia on glycemic and lipid profile of type 2 diabetic patients: A randomized controlled trial. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, 10(2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7103435/

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National Library of Medicine. (2016). Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals. PubMed Central. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093271/

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9655943/

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, April 17). FDA In Brief: FDA allows the low-calorie sweetener allulose to be excluded from total and added sugars counts on Nutrition and Supplement Facts labels when used as an ingredient. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-brief/fda-brief-fda-allows-low-calorie-sweetener-allulose-be-excluded-total-and-added-sugars-counts

Tani, Y., Tokuda, M., Nishimoto, N., Yokoi, H., & Izumori, K. (2023). Allulose for the attenuation of postprandial blood glucose levels in healthy humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 18(4), e0281150.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10079081/