You’ve certainly heard this myth before: “If you have diabetes, you can’t eat sugar”. That's simply not true. What’s important to understand is that carbohydrate and sugar are one and the same: carbohydrates break down into sugar and that’s the part that affects blood sugar. If you have diabetes, eating sugar is possible as long as you count the total grams of carbohydrate as part of your total carbohydrate allowance for the day and the meal. Consuming sugar needs to be done within the confines of a healthy eating plan.
Every year, the American Diabetes Association publishes its Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Those guidelines clearly state: “There is no single ideal amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for people with diabetes. This must be individualized."
The guidelines also suggest that carbohydrate intake should come from vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes and dairy products over other sources that contain added fats, sugar or sodium (like processed cakes and cookies!).
Sugar provides more than just sweetness in food. Baking with sugar also gives food texture and color. In most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by at least one-third without changing the taste and texture.
Fruit juices and frozen fruit juice concentrates can be used to sweeten baked goods. Since these baked goods are high in carbohydrates, it important to eat these treats in moderation and to count every gram of carbohydrate, not exceeding your recommended total for that meal as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Sugar-free products can give you added flexibility in your meal plan because they generally contain fewer grams of carbohydrate and are typcially lower in fat and calories. However, this is not always the case. Be sure to read the nutrition facts label and compare regular to sugar-free products to confirm there is an actual benefit.
Artificial sweeteners provide almost no calories and will not affect your blood sugar levels because they are not metabolised by the body. However, not all artificial sweeteners can be used for baking and prolonged cooking. Read the labels and only use those that say the product can be used for baking.
Two readily available, one-to-one sugar substitutes that can be found on most supermarket shelves are Splenda and Twin (Twin has both a white sugar replacement and a brown sugar replacement product).
These sugar substitutes are excellent for prolonged cooking and baking. Neither leaves that tell-tale bitter or metallic aftertaste that many sugar substitutes have when heated and are measured out like common table sugar—a cup for a cup; 1 tablespoon for 1 tablespoon, etc.
Newer sugar substitutes on the market include Stevia. Stevia is made from a plant native to South America that and has been around for centuries. SweetLeaf is a sweetener made from stevia extract, and both Truvia and Pure Via are stevia-based. These products have been FDA approved, while whole-leaf stevia or extracts have not. Stevia is not a one-to-one substitute for sugar, so the manufacturer recommends you consult their conversion tables.
Agave nectars and syrups are commonly marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar and honey. Unfortunately, the fructans in these products are broken down into smaller fructose chains, which means that they still affect blood sugar levels like high fructose corn syrup.
Here, some does and don'ts to following when using sugar substitutes to make your favorite sweets.
Want to start baking? Click here for recipes using sugar substitutes.