Healthy eating is the most important step in taking care of your diabetes. You can control your blood sugar levels by balancing the foods you eat -- especially carbohydrates -- with your daily activities, exercise and medications. Sugar alcohols are reduced-calorie sweeteners that may be beneficial when you wish to enjoy something sweet without spiking your blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate counting is a meal planning technique used by diabetics to control their blood sugar levels and manage medications. When you eat carbohydrates, it turns into blood glucose, or sugar, that your body uses for energy with the help of insulin. When you have diabetes, your body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work properly. As a result, the glucose from carbohydrates cannot be used by your body and your blood sugar levels become too high. The American Diabetes Association recommends an intake of 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal to keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, but you may need more or less depending on your individual needs.
The name sugar alcohol is misleading because sugar alcohols do not contain any alcohol. Sugar alcohols are a type of sugar extracted from plants such as corn and seaweed. However, sugar alcohols are only partially absorbed into your bloodstream, and therefore provide fewer calories and less impact on your blood sugar levels than normal sugar. Due to their sweetness and low calorie content, sugar alcohols are often substituted for regular sugar in many foods.
Sugar Alcohols are usually in foods that are labeled "sugar-free" or "no sugar added." These commonly include ice creams, cookies, cakes, gelatin desserts, pudding and chewing gums. You can identify sugar alcohols in foods using the ingredients list on the nutrition facts label. Look for the words sorbitol, xylitol, malitol, mannitol, lactitol, erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrosylate, isomalt and glycerol.
To account for the part of sugar alcohols that is absorbed into your bloodstream, the American Diabetes Association recommends that for foods containing more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols -- which is indicated on the nutrition facts label -- you subtract half the grams of sugar alcohol from the amount of total carbohydrate. Count the remaining total carbohydrate toward your carbohydrate intake. For example, if a cookie has 20 grams of total carbohydrate and 6 grams of sugar alcohols, you would subtract half of 6 grams, which is 3 grams, from 20, for a total of 17 grams of carbohydrate.
Foods with sugar alcohols can impact blood sugar levels. Check your blood sugar levels when consuming foods with sugar alcohols and adjust your medications accordingly. Sugar alcohols may have a laxatative effect, especially in children, the elderly and people with gastrointestinal diseases. Consume sugar alcohols in moderation.
Beth Conlon is a registered dietitian with work published in several peer-reviewed journals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Saint Joseph's University and a Master of Science in nutrition from Marywood University. Conlon is currently pursuing a doctorate in biomedical sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.