The Sweet Truth about Low Calorie Sweeteners and Diabetes

Physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet play a huge role in diabetes prevention and control. Low calorie sweeteners can be part of the solution by providing convenient and tasteful options for diabetics who are watching their carbohydrate, sugar, and calorie intake.  

Type 2 diabetes mellitus runs in both sides of my family and I've seen first hand the effect the disease has had on my grandparent's lifestyle. After their diagnosis they were compelled to change their diet and physical activity regimen to effectively manage their diabetes. My grandpa started going to the local middle school to walk around the track three times a week and his drink of choice is now iced tea sweetened with sucralose. Even small dietary changes help, and I'm thankful there are a variety of food products that can help him manage his weight and enjoy the foods he loves without the consequences of blood sugar spikes.  

So what exactly are low calorie sweeteners? Low-calorie sweeteners are added to foods and beverages to provide sweetness without adding calories or carbs. They are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than sugar, and therefore, they can be used in very small amounts. Low calorie sweeteners have been studied extensively and are deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  

In the U.S., the most common and popular low-calorie sweeteners permitted for use in foods and beverages today are: 

-    acesulfame-potassium (or Ace-K)

-    aspartame

-    neotame

-    saccharin

-    stevia sweeteners

-    sucralose 

Low calorie sweeteners are especially attractive for diabetics because they make food taste sweet, contain little to no calories and do not raise blood glucose levels. According to the American Diabetes Association, low calorie sweeteners do not count as a carbohydrate, a fat, or any other exchange. Therefore, people with diabetes can use food and beverages with low calorie sweeteners as tools for making healthful food choices.

A healthful diet for people with diabetes includes many of the same foods that make up a healthful diet for anyone, including foods encouraged by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, as with any medical condition, it is important that people with diabetes consult with a registered dietitian and/or health care provider for further guidance on a meal plan that is best for them.

Small steps go a long way and low calorie sweeteners can provide tasty and convenient solutions for diabetics, like my grandparents, who still want to enjoy foods they love without worrying about blood sugar spikes...and that's the sweet truth! 

For additional information on low calorie sweeteners:

Low Calorie Sweeteners Fact Sheet

Low Calorie Sweeteners: Their Role in Healthful Eating Fact Sheet

Expert Perspectives on Low Calorie Sweeteners and Weight - Video Series

Nicole Hines, IFIC FDN Intern, Master's of Public Health & Nutrition Student Date: 6/12/13