Can You Trust a “Sugar-Free” Label?
Over the weekend, an interesting article featured in the Daily Mail investigated what ingredients went into “sugar-free” food items. Much to the surprise of the author, some recipes called for a whopping 550g of honey!
What are Hidden Sugars?
Hidden sugars are ingredients that have been added to a pre-prepared product to add flavour and texture it. Whilst we are familiar with white granulated sugar as being sugar, we are still unfamiliar with the other names that sugar presents itself in our food.
Here is a list of names that sugar presents itself as in pre-prepared food:
- Anhydrous Dextrose
- Inverted Sugar
- Raw Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Confectioner’s powdered sugar
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Corn Syrup
- Corn Syrup Solids
- Malt Syrup
- Maple Syrup
- Pancake Syrup
- White granulated sugar
- Nectars (eg peach nectar, agave nectar, pear nectar, etc)
With the industry having a vested interest in providing great tasting products without using traditional sugar, there has been a surge of other sweeteners on the market. One that is termed to be safe for diabetics is Stevia. However, whilst stevia is indeed extracted from a South American plant and it is indeed sweeter than granulated white sugar , the commercial forms available will not help minimise blood sugar spikes.
A quick search of stevia-based sweeteners available at various supermarkets, the total carbohydrate content, per 100g of product, is always in excess of 90g. In all these cases, stevia accounted for around 2% of the total product. The rest is made up of Dextrose (modified corn starch) or Maltodextrin (modified rice starch), items which DO have an impact on blood sugar levels: Dextrose has a GI (low glycaemic index score) of 100 whilst Maltodextrin has a GI of 105!
So whilst stevia itself may offer a good sugar-alternative, the commercial form it is found in is certainly not good for maintaining stable blood sugars.
Ok, but what about honey, agave syrup and coconut sugar?
Coconut sugar, agave syrup and honey are sometimes seen as ‘healthy’ alternatives to granulated white sugar as they come from natural sources and due to this contain nutrients beneficial to health. Whilst honey and coconut sugar do contain traces of antioxidants, B vitamins, etc, these account for only 5% of total content. The other 95% is made up of a variety of carbohydrates, the main one being fructose. Honey contains 76.4g of total carbohydrates per 100g.
Hence the idea of substituting granulated sugar for honey, may not be the healthiest thing that you can do as in actual fact you have not removed any sugar from your diet.
Fructose may well be low GI, but it suppresses the body’s ability to produce insulin and leptin – hormones required for controlling appetite, essentially the chemicals your body produces to tell you that you’re full. Fructose intake has been shown to contribute to insulin resistance , weight gain  and hypertension [4, 5] .
Sugar-Free Yet Still Sweet
Polyols are becoming a popular ingredient in foods labelled as ‘sugar-free’. Polyols are a group of low digestible carbohydrates. They are easily recognisable in ingredients list due to the suffix ‘-ol’ eg: lactitol, mannitol, etc, the only exception to this rule is the polyol isomalt. With regards to polyol digestion, humans to do not contain the enzymes necessary to break these down and so are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Due to this, they do not cause a rise in blood sugars and a subsequent insulin response. Hence, on the surface, polyols appear to be low carb friendly.
Published research into the health benefits and effects of polyols are in favour of substituting them for added sugars as they cause less dental caries and are seen as a good method to help tackle the obesity and diabetes epidemic .
However, having said this, research has shown that consuming more than 10g of polyols a day can have a laxative effect as well as aggravate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms .
Oligofructose - a better option all round
Oligofructose (also known as Fructooligosaccharide [FOS]) is a naturally occurring alternative sweetener. A growing body of evidence continues to show the importance of a healthy gut environment is not only helpful for bowel health but also to enable full absorption of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, through our gut . Studies into the health benefits of oligofructose show that it stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the human gut and hence termed as prebiotics .
The use of oligofructose as a natural sweetener offers satisfaction to one’s sweet tooth whilst also avoiding blood sugar spikes and unwanted laxative side effects. It is for this reason that here at Natural Low Carb Store we use only oligofructose in our food, thereby ensuring that the quality of our food is second to none.
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