Q: Is there any real benefit to using "sugar-free" products?
A: Sugar alcohols are used instead of regular sugars in many "sugar-free" or "reduced-sugar" foods. They help provide sweetness in foods while reducing the sugar content. Our bodies process sugar alcohols differently than regular sugar so they don't produce as many calories. They also do not cause the same erratic increase in blood glucose as regular sugar. This makes them popular with diabetics who need to maintain strict blood glucose control. The downside to sugar alcohols is that they can cause bloating and loose stools. When foods containing them are overeaten, they can cause weight gain. So while the sugar-free mix may be the best bet for a diabetic, you should continue to read the rest of the nutrition labels. Even though "sugar-free" or "sugar-reduced" foods are typically lower in calories, the reduction of sugars is often countered with an increase in fats. This can include unhealthy saturated and trans fats. For more information, be sure to talk to your registered dietitian or diabetes educator.
-- Dr. Christopher Sanborn, Erlanger Bariatric & Metabolic Surgery Center; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society
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