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Hearts & Farts - Blog

The Problem with fake sugars also known as "Sugar Alcohols."

Let me start by saying that I hope everyone had a fantastic Valentine’s Day and got everything that your heart desires (or at least a nice, relaxing evening). I hope that you are all strong and steer clear of the discounted candy that is now peering at you from every angle of the grocery store. It’s not worth the huge discount!!!

Today I want to talk to you about a little-known effect from the world of sugar-free. Now, before I ruin the surprise, let me tell you that a low-sugar diet is one that I immensely support. It helps support blood sugar & insulin regulation, weight regulation, decreases stress on the body, and keeps us out of an acidic state. Now, having put my official stamp on a reduced sugar diet I need to follow-up by telling you the pitfalls of sugar-free food products, particularly sugar alcohols (which are NOT made from ethanol so they won't make you drunk - sorry!)

When we walk down food isles we are bombarded with labels claiming to be “low-fat,” “low-sugar,” “low-carb,” “calorie-free” “sugar-free” etc. If this all seems confusing, that is because it is! The food industries don’t necessarily shout from the roof tops the down-side to certain ingredients. Therefore, it is important to be an informed shopper and know the pros and cons for yourself.

Sugar-free sounds so great, right? We think, “awesome, I can eat some of my favorite foods and maybe not worry about it because they are low in sugar!” I strongly recommend pumping the breaks before going full force in the sugar-free isle at the grocery store.

As my title so subtly puts it, the big downside to proclaimed “sugar-free” foods are that they can give you the toots. The reason why? Sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are reduced-calorie sweeteners that are not fully absorbed the same way sugar is. They can be found in cookies, candies, cakes, pudding, ice cream, gum, and other sweet treats.

Pro Tip: If you are looking at a food label you may see “Sugar Alcohols” below the sugar line if the food has sugar alcohols in it.

The nice thing about sugar alcohols is that since it has minimal sugar, it doesn’t quite affect the blood sugar the same way. The downside is that they can cause a laxative effect. Basically, your body doesn’t quite know what these sugar alcohols are and so it doesn’t digest it like it would normal sugar. While this may seem great if you are trying to cut carbs, it can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea if eaten in excess.

Furthermore, even though the sugar alcohol itself may be lower in sugar, these items may still be high in carbohydrates that convert to sugar. Therefore, blood sugar still can spike. It is common for those struggling with diabetes or high blood sugar, autoimmune disease, and food sensitivities to have gastrointestinal issues. Those issues paired with the laxative effect of sugar alcohols might be reason enough to steer clear of them.

When it comes to eliminating sugar from your diet, sugar-free items may be the next closest thing to getting that sugar fix. Unfortunately, the downsides to excess sugar-free items may be just as bad as excess sugar itself. Ideally, we would all drop sugar like it’s hot and the need to substitute sugar, but that is just not the world we live in. We are literally surrounded by sugar! Here are some options of decent lower-sugar foods that you can use to help curb your sweet tooth.

  1. Dark Chocolate – I’m talking 85%+. Dark chocolate is lower in carbs than regular chocolate and does have some good antioxidant effects that come with it. Though dark chocolate does have some great properties, you do always want to be mindful of the serving size. Too much can be a bad thing (much like wine!)

  2. Nuts – again minding the serving sizes, nuts can be a fantastic snack that can kill that sweet craving. Reason why is because nuts are full of healthy fats that can help satiate your cravings.

  3. Fruit – aka “Nature’s Dessert” is one way to help give you a little sugar. If you are cutting carbs or on AIP or FODMAP diet then you need to be careful with fruit choices and how much you eat. Berries are always a good choice as is small peaches and plums. Keeping it around 1-2 servings per day is ideal depending on your health goals.

  4. Warm Herbal Tea – this one is ideal when you are at home maybe after a long day and need something to help you relax and unwind. I prefer chamomile, but there are so many to choose from. Buy a variety pack and find out which ones are you favorite.

  5. Kind Bars – Great if you are hungry and need a snack. They are not void of carbs or sugars, but are lower and paleo-esque with their ingredients. I would avoid if you have any soy issues, though.

Now, with specific diets such as autoimmune paleo or fodmaps and even those who are struggling with diabetes or insulin resistance, it may be important for you to specifically avoid excess sugar, sugar alcohols, and even some of the other foods listed here. Therefore, for anyone looking for a more personalized diet, it is time to learn exactly what is right for YOUR body. Everyone is different and therefore we would be foolish to think that we all will thrive on the exact same diet. Learn more about appointments with Aimee here.

Hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Week – seriously, why limit celebrating love to just one day?

Aimee Paladino

The Functional RD

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