If you take the sugar out of a food or drink, you lower the total carb count, so what about sugar-free foods and drinks on a low-carb diet?
Are sugar-free products helpful or harmful as you work toward your weight loss goals?
In this post, I share some important insights about sugar-free foods and drinks on a low-carb diet.
Sugar-Free Foods – Yes or No [Video]
Sugar-Free Candy! What Could Go Wrong?!
It seems like everything from soda, to candy, to baked goods now has a sugar-free version.
On its face-value this sounds really good, right? Especially if you are a diabetic or you have insulin resistance.
If you follow my blog, you know I often talk about the benefits of a no-sugar diet.
In fact, if you follow my 0,1,2,3 strategy for weight loss, you know that the zero stands for zero sugar.
At this point, you might be wondering if you can switch from full-sugar foods to their sugar-free versions to get the best of both worlds. In theory, you could lose weight and still feed your sweet tooth!
Well, in my opinion, that is a bad idea.
Continuing To Feed Your Sweet Tooth Is a Bad Diet Strategy
Sugar-free foods are still sweet. So, if you continually eat artificially sweetened foods, you are continuing to feed your sweet tooth.
This is a problem because sweetness has a powerful mental and physical pull.
When you constantly have sweet things on your tongue, your taste buds and brain chemistry continue to desire sweetness.
This means you never lose your addiction to sugar.
This addiction will stick around no matter if the sweetness is coming from sugar or artificial sweeteners.
An Overlooked Problem With Artificial Sweeteners
Here is something else for you to consider.
There is a phenomenon in your body called the cephalic phase insulin response. (That’s a mouthful!)
The term cephalic refers to your head. That means this is an insulin response that has nothing to do with glucose in your blood, and everything to do with your brain chemistry.
What causes this response is simply having something sweet in your mouth.
There was an interesting study that asked participants to swish different solutions around in their mouth for 45 seconds and then spit them out. They did not swallow the solutions.
Next, they tested the participant’s blood.
The researchers found that when sucrose (a.k.a. sugar) and saccharin (an artificial sweetener) were simply held in the participant’s mouths that their insulin level increased (1)
Artificial Sweeteners Do Have An Impact On Your Body
In other words, the participants in the study (above) experienced a rise in blood insulin even though they spit the sweet solution out of their mouths.
The takeaway from the study is that sugar-free does not mean a free ride.
Sugar-Free ≠ Free Ride
These substances do have an impact on your body and metabolism.
This impact could be affecting your brain chemistry, liver, or blood glucose directly.
Some Sugar Substitutes Have a Glycemic Index
My next reason why I do not promote the use of sugar substitutes is because some sugar substitutes have a glycemic index.
If it has a glycemic index, that means the artificial sweetener is known to cause a rise in your blood sugar.
The scary thing is, depending on the substitute, the rise in blood sugar can be more than what you’d get with sugar!
For example, the glycemic index of table sugar or sucrose is 65.
Maltodextrin, (which is often used as a sweetener and filler in sugar-free items), has a glycemic index of anywhere from 85 to 136 depending on the source.
Real Examples of Maltodextrin Being Used as a Sugar Substitute
This package of Strawberry Mousse Mix boasts that it is sugar-free, but the first ingredient is maltodextrin.
It is feasible, depending on how much maltodextrin is in here, that this sugar-free food could push your blood sugar as high, if not higher, than a full-sugar version.
Maltodextrin is also found in this snack food that is marketed to diabetics.
At least, in this case, it is listed 8th on the ingredient list. The lower the ingredient is on the list means the less the ingredient was used.
So in this product, the quantity of maltodextrin is somewhat small.
However, we see that Maltitol is the second ingredient in this snack.
Food Companies Are Sneaky!
Now, maltitol has a glycemic index of 35, so it would be considered a low-glycemic sweetener, but it should not be dismissed.
You are still getting a blood sugar response when you consume this food despite the label telling you that there are zero grams of sugar.
Some Sugar Substitutes Are Questionable Health Wise
I’ve talked about the health concerns of artificial sweeteners in other posts, but to give you an example, this diet soda is sweetened with aspartame.
Aspartate is a chemical that makes up 40% of aspartame.
Aspartate acts as an excitotoxin in your brain.
This basically means it overexcites the nerve cells, which disrupts their activity and potentially leads to their death.
Not Every Sugar-Free Item on a Low-Carb Diet Is Dangerous…
I will leave you with this. Not every sugar-free item is dangerous or will spike your glucose, but I recommend using them sparingly.
For instance, I am not opposed to chewing an occasional piece of sugar-free gum, and I sometimes add a splash of a sugar-free balsamic vinaigrette to my salad.
Be an Ingredient List Detective!
If you are relying on multiple sugar-free items each day, you need to be an ingredient list detective to make sure you are getting the blood-sugar-lowering effect you need to lose weight.
It is worth mentioning again that a heavy reliance on sugar-free items keeps your sweet tooth alive, and will prevent you from breaking free from sugar cravings.
If you need help breaking free from sugar, you can learn my 0,1,2,3 strategy.
Thank you for reading, and I hope this information will help you reach your healthy goals!
- Just, Tino, et al. “Cephalic phase insulin release in healthy humans after taste stimulation?.” Appetite 51.3 (2008): 622-627.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.