Sugar Rush

What does "sugar-free" really mean?
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Watching your sugar intake? You should be, if you’re concerned with your physique — and your health. Maintaining steady blood sugar levels by not consuming fast digesting, sugary carbohydrates is linked to leaner body composition and less risk of diabetes. So it would make sense that you might find sugar-free products to be tempting. But before you buy, consider this. Although some products actually do use nonsugar sweeteners (like aspartame, acesulfame or saccharin), there are some that still contain fast-digesting carbs.

The Food and Drug Administration enforces the use of the term “sugar-free,” ensuring it can only be used on products that contain less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving. That said, you would be forgiven for thinking that, say, a jar of jelly that’s marked “sugar-free” would be slow-digesting, given that it should contain primarily fruit. However, you’d also be wrong.

To state the obvious, foods that can have sugar removed must have originally contained sugar. And it perhaps also goes without saying that the food wouldn’t taste very good without sugar in it. So the sugar is replaced with something. Sometimes it’s replaced with aspartame or sucralose; sometimes it’s replaced with chemically modified sugars.

Maltodextrin is basically a long chain of glucose (a type of sugar found naturally in foods and in your body, where it’s known as blood sugar) molecules created from corn. In a sneaky bit of food science trickery, maltodextrin is actually considered a complex carbohydrate because it’s composed of more than one sugar molecule. However, maltodextrin is digested just as quickly as sugar, which means that it can influence insulin levels in a similar way to sugar. Incidentally, despite its name — dextrose is another word for glucose — polydextrose is considered a soluble fiber and shouldn’t be confused with sugar.

Bottom line: don’t think that just because a product is labeled sugarfree, you can eat it at will.

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