Sugar Alcohol and Diabetes: How Sweet is This Pair?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

The relationship between sugar and diabetes is more bitter than sweet. If you have diabetes, you have to keep your diet on fleek to prevent blood sugar spikes.

The good news? You don’t have to cut out all sweet stuff from your diet thanks to sugar substitutes.

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No.141 - Humectant

Here’s what to know about sugar alcohol if you have diabetes.

WTF is sugar alcohol?

Sugar alcohol is a type of sweet carbohydrate. It’s chemical structure is similar to standard sugar which gives it a sweet flavor.

Sugar alcohol is often human-made, but you can also find sugar alcohol naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables. At the grocery store you’ll usually find sugar alcohol in “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” processed foods like ice cream, cookies, candy, and chewing gum.

Types of sugar alcohol include:

  • xylitol
  • isomalt
  • lactitol
  • maltitol
  • sorbitol
  • glycerol
  • glycerin
  • mannitol
  • glycerine
  • erythritol
  • hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
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PSA: Don’t let its name fool you — sugar alcohol can’t get you drunk. It doesn’t contain ethanol, the chemical in booze that makes you schwifty.

How does sugar alcohol affect blood sugar?

Sugar alcohols are digested differently than regular sugar. That’s why they have less of an impact on blood sugar.

According to a 2017 review article, sugar alcohol is metabolized in two different ways:

  • direct absorption (usually in the liver)
  • indirect metabolism by intestinal bacteria

These processes don’t require insulin, a hormone that turns glucose into energy. This is good news for peeps with diabetes who have issues producing insulin.

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FYI: A lot of foods that use sugar alcohols aren’t diabetes-friendly. Always check the label to make sure your snack is safe.

Benefits of sugar alcohol for diabetes

Sugar alcohol is a solid sweet substitute. If eaten in moderation, it can be part of your daily diabetes diet.

The American Diabetes Association suggests you use it in coffee, tea, cereal, or on fruit. But you can also make top-tier baked goods with it too . You’ll get the fab flavor you love with a lower risk of blood sugar spikes.

But wait, there’s more! Sugar alcohol has less calories than regular sugar. Making the switch could help you keep your caloric intake in check. This might help you maintain a healthy weight, which is hella important if you have diabetes.

How much sugar alcohol can you have a day?

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There isn’t an exact limit on how much sugar alcohol you should eat. But it’s important to enjoy it in moderation.

This chart will let you know how much sugar alcohol you can eat without unpleasant side effects (like diarrhea):

Folks living with diabetes should get about half their daily calories from carbs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Just keep in mind, diabetes nutrition recs can vary from person to person.

The amount of carbs or sugar alcohols you eat can depend on your age, weight, activity levels, or other factors. Def talk with a doctor or registered dietitian before you make major changes to your diet.

Are there risks to using sugar alcohol if you have diabetes?

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No.142 - Humectant

REMINDER: Sugar alcohols can still screw with your blood sugar levels even if it’s not real sugar. Also, even if a product is marketed as “sugar-free” it might not be diabetes-friendly.

To avoid a spike, count the calories and carbs that derived from sugar alcohols. Always include them in your overall meal plan.

What about side effects?

Sugar alcohols are a type of FODMAP which stands for:

  • Fermentable Oligosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Monosaccharides
  • Polyols

FODMAPs are a chain of carbs that aren’t easily absorbed in the small intestine. They’re also prone to fermenting in the colon. This can lead to some stinky side effects like bloating, diarrhea, and gas .

Other sugar substitutes to try

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If sugar alcohol isn’t up your alley, you’re still in luck. There are tons of sugar substitutes that can satisfy your sweet tooth without triggering a blood sugar spike.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners (aka nonnutritive sweeteners) don’t provide any calories or nutrition. That means they won’t impact your blood sugar like regular sugar. But they to tend to be 10/10 sweet tasting which isn’t for everyone.

Some popular artificial sweeteners include:

  • sucralose
  • saccharin
  • aspartame
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These are derived from natural sources. Two tasty varieties are stevia — which is made from stevia bush leaves — and tagatose. Tagatose comes from dairy- derived lactose and contains 92 percent of the sweetness of sugar and 38 percent of the calories.

BTW, novel sweeteners can vary in taste and caloric content. So check the label first.

Ain’t it sweet

Sugar alcohols can be a safe alternative to real sugar for people with diabetes. Just remember sugar alcohols aren’t a “free food.” They can still spike your blood sugar when eaten in excess. They can also cause digestion discomfort if you go overboard.

If sugar alcohols aren’t your thing, you can try other sugar substitutes like artificial sweeteners or novel sweeteners. You can also talk with your doc about the best ways to manage your diabetes diet.

Read more on: alcohol, diabetes

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