Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Sugars and Sugar Alcohols: What’s the Difference?

If you have diabetes, it’s critical to understand how carbohydrates and sugar affect blood glucose levels. If sugar is used as a replacement for other carbohydrates -- gram for gram (calorie for calorie) -- and is not simply added to the diet, people with diabetes can safely eat foods that contain sugar.

One downside is that rather than substituting sugary foods for other carbohydrates, most people just eat both. Another downside is that sugary foods contain mainly "empty calories," whereas starchy foods are more nutritious because they also supply vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Sugar is available in many forms -- white, brown, granulated and confectioners'. The chemical name for these sugars is sucrose. Many food products contain other types of sugar, all having chemical names that end in -ose, such as glucose (also called dextrose), fructose (in fruits and honey), lactose (in milk products) and maltose (in starchy foods).

During digestion, sucrose, lactose and maltose are broken down into glucose and other simpler types of sugars. Unfortunately, some foods that are labeled "safe for diabetics" just replace sucrose with fructose, maltose or other forms of sugar. That's why it's important to check food labels for hidden sugars such as honey, corn syrup, molasses and ingredients ending in the telltale -ose.

Beware sugar alcohols. Also watch for sugar alcohols with names that end in -ol, such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol. These sweeteners are chemically related to alcohol, but they have no alcoholic effects. They are carbohydrates that are converted to ordinary sugar during digestion.

Sugar alcohols are used in many products labeled as "low carb," "low sugar" or "sugar free." But don't be fooled. Sugar alcohols have calories and will raise your blood glucose level. In addition, many low-carb foods that are sweetened with sugar alcohols are high in fat, and large quantities of sugar alcohols often cause diarrhea.

Posted in Diabetes on December 29, 2011

Bariatric Living and Recipes is managed by Frances Osborne, Austin Texas