How Good Are ‘Sugar-Free’ Foods for Diabetic Patients? 

Although sugar-free items contain zero or low amount of sugar, their consumption needs to be monitored. 

3 min read
Can sugar-free items really be consumed without thinking twice?

(14 November is observed as World Diabetes Day every year to raise awareness about the condition, its management and how it impacts people’s everyday lives. FIT is reposting this story in that light.)

If you have a sweet tooth but also have diabetes, the market has many sugar-free products to offer. Almost every conceivable sweet dish today like cake, pastry, laddoo, and even homemade dessert, has sugar-free substitutes.

But what do doctors and researchers have to say about the benefits of these alternatives? Can they really be consumed without thinking twice?

To answer these questions, FIT approached Dr Roopak Wadhwa from Fortis Hospital and Viveka Kaul, diabetes educator at Apollo Hospital.

How Good Are ‘Sugar-Free’ Foods for Diabetic Patients? 
(Photo: iStock)

Why Sugar-Free?

According to Dr Wadhwa, sugar intake for diabetic patients is prohibited because of the number of calories it contains. Five grams of sugar, for instance, contains almost 20-25 calories. Sugar-free items, on the other hand, contain zero or negligible calories, while still giving the dish a sweet flavor.

Sugar, jaggery, honey – all need to be avoided by diabetic patients. Extra sugar with tea, for instance, should not be consumed because milk already contains sugar.
Dr Roopak Wadhwa, Fortis Hospital

For Dr Wadhwa, the benefits of sugar-free items depend on the kind of ingredients used in them. Sugar-free made from natural ingredients, for instance, are better than the ones that contain a lot of chemicals.

Sugar-free with chemicals are not widely available today because of their side effects on bones. A high dosage has a risk of cancer, therefore checking the product labels becomes crucial. Even earlier, doctors only allowed using two sugar-free pills at once, not more.
Dr Roopak Wadhwa, Fortis Hospital

Kaul considers 'stevia' a relatively good alternative to sugar since it is extracted out of a plant. Stevia leaves can directly be boiled and used as a sweetener.

How Much of Sugar-Free Is Okay?

Both Kaul and Dr Wadhwa, however, recommend a limited use of even sugar-free items, including Stevia.

While the sugar-free sweets don’t contain sugar, they might contain other high-calorie ingredients like khoya, ghee and cream; which should all be consumed only in limited amounts.
Dr Roopak Wadhwa, Fortis Hospital
How Good Are ‘Sugar-Free’ Foods for Diabetic Patients? 
(Photo: iStock)

In fact, Kaul shares that there are occasions when patients with controlled sugar levels and a high craving for sweets are suggested to consume a regulated amount of sugar instead of sugar-free. This, however, needs to be very minimal, and only with the doctor’s approval.

Notably, pregnant women and kids should maintain a strict distance from sugar-free items, according to Dr Wadhwa. If diabetic children really feel like having sweets, they can be given healthy alternatives like fruits.

Artificial Sweeteners – A Strict NO

According to Healthline, some artificial sweeteners falsely claim to be diabetic-friendly, when many studies have proved their harmful effects. There is also a dispute surrounding the link between artificial sweeteners, cancer, and other health-related problems. A study from the 70s, for instance, establishes a link between artificial sweeteners and bladder cancer, while scientists in the 90s concluded that there is no such connection.

Although Mayo Clinic claims that there is generally no rise in blood sugar levels with the use of artificial sweeteners, it is recommended that any use of a sugar substitute must follow some consultation with a doctor.

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