6 Best Sugar Substitutes for Diabetics

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Sugar substitutes have historically gotten a bad rap but, after more than 45 years of research, there has been no credible evidence that they can do any harm to a person if used appropriately. While it is true that most have little to no nutritional value, they can satisfy a sweet tooth and be safely consumed by people with diabetes.

The six, non-nutritive sweeteners approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and advantame. Of these, neotame and advantame are approved for use as a general food additive and largely unavailable as tabletop sweeteners.

In addition, there are a number of so-called nutritive sweeteners like isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol which are found in many sugar-free gums and candies. These are technically called sugar alcohols and, unlike artificial sweeteners, can raise blood sugar but usually not to levels considered harmful.

In addition, natural sweeteners like stevia have gained popularity in recent years and are generally considered safe for diabetics.

Saccharin (Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin)

Sweet'N Low
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Sodium saccharin (benzoic sulfimide) has been around since the late-19th century but gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s as the first commercially marketed artificial sweetener. It is most commonly recognized in brands that offer them in a characteristic pink packet, including Sweet'N Low and Sugar Twin.

One packet contains three grams of carbohydrate and has a glycemic index of zero. It is good for sweetening both hot and cold foods.

Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)

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Aspartame was first created in 1965 and approved by the FDA in 1981. It is often recognized by its trademark light blue packet and marketed under various brand names, including Equal and Nutrasweet.

Aspartame only has one net carb per packet and a glycemic index of zero. It tends to lose some of its sweetness when heated.

Sucralose (Splenda)

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Sucralose is one of the sweetest of the artificial sweeteners and marketed in the U.S. under the name Splenda. There are other brands available, each identified by their characteristic light yellow packet. Sucralose was approved as a food additive in 1998 and as a general purpose sweetener in 1999.

Sucralose has less than a gram of carbohydrate and a glycemic index of zero. It can be used in both hot and cold foods.

Acesulfame Potassium (Sweet One)

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Acesulfame potassium, also known as acesulfame K or Ace-K, was discovered in 1967 and approved by the FDA for use as a general food additive in 2003. It is available as a tabletop sweetener under the various brand names, including Sweet One.

Acesulfame potassium has one carb unit and a glycemic index of zero. It remains stable when heated without the loss of sweetness but is often mixed with other sweeteners to offset its slightly bitter aftertaste.

Acesulfame K is less commonly found on grocery store shelves but can be sourced online or at many national drug store chains, including Walmart.

Stevia (Truvia, PureVia)

Truvia as a Replacement for Sugar in Baking
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Stevia is not an artificial sweetener but rather a natural one extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia was given the go-ahead by the FDA in 2008 and has fast become the popular, "natural" alternative to chemically manufactured artificial sweeteners.

Stevia, in its tabletop form, is marketed under various brand names, including Truvia and PureVia. It has three grams of carbs per packet and a glycemic index of zero. It doesn't offer quite the intensity of sweetness as most artificial brands but does remain stable when heated.

Many of the stevia manufacturers package their sweeteners in a light green packet.

Sugar Alcohols (Xylitol, Sorbitol)

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Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, are extracted from the natural fibers of fruits and vegetables. They are classified as nutritive sweeteners and have some effect on the blood glucose levels, albeit lower than sugar.

The impact on blood sugar can vary, ranging from a glycemic index of 13 for xylitol to nine for sorbitol. Others, like mannitol, border on zero.

Despite their relatively low impact on blood glucose, certain sugar alcohols (like xylitol and mannitol) may have a laxative effect if overused. These sweeteners are less commonly found in grocery stores but can be sourced from a major drugstore and health food retailers.

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