Health Team

Does sugar-free mean healthier?

Posted May 4, 2011

From sodas to gelatin, stores are full of sugar-free choices. But something else is making those foods sweet – and those ingredients are not always healthier.

“I don't recommend sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners myself,” registered dietitian Cynthia Sass said.

Some dietitians worry that sugar substitutes, like Splenda and Equal, can trigger bad habits.

“There's some indication they may stoke a sweet tooth so you'll be looking for sweets elsewhere or you're just obsessively thinking about sweets all the time,” Sass said.

Even though the government has tested and approved the sweeteners, shoppers like Christine Walsdorf have their doubts.

“I think there's questionable data about it so if I can avoid it I avoid it,” Walsdorf said.

Suspicion about artificial sweeteners dates back to the 1970s when saccharine carried a warning label.

The cancer warning came off more than 10 years ago, but nutritionists are still wary. They worry that dieters assume sugar-free means it will help you lose weight.

That's not always true since the products often contain fats and carbohydrates.

When comparing Oreos and sugar-free Oreos, there is only a 5 calorie difference per cookie.

The sugar-free version, which uses an artificial sweetener, is also smaller, possibly encouraging people to eat more.

Is sugar-free healthier? Does sugar-free mean healthier?

Also, the ingredient list is longer on the sugar-free cookie, which leads experts to say that if it reads like a science experiment look for a healthier option.

Artificial sweeteners might be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes.

However, there are concerns about how sugar substitutes are labeled, and diabetics should always check with their doctor or dietitian about whether any of those products may affect their blood sugar.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • kittiboo May 10, 2011

    Pseudonym- AMEN!!! My thoughts exactly!

  • kittiboo May 10, 2011

    Seems like it is more of a mental problem than a physical one. My sweet tooth is already present- at least if I eat stuff with artificial sweeteners I am avoiding the extra sugar that I'm already craving.

  • Frank Downtown May 9, 2011

    No! Sugar free is not healthier! They usually have added fat to make up for the lack of sugar!

  • tmdcedar May 9, 2011

    Today's thought: The problem with health care is that doctors don't have enough patience with their patients.

  • Pseudonym May 5, 2011

    My prediction is that 100% of us are going to die. Enjoy life, have fun, and love your family and friends. Life is short enough as it is without adding worry and stress to it.

  • MarvinsWife12 May 5, 2011

    Long live the Atkins Diet (done by the book), Sugar substitutes, and the US Food Safety record. Just say NO to Big Sugar industry, diabetes, obesity and uninformed paranoid nutritionists!
    - airunc

    Amen, airunc! I've never eaten so many veggies being on THE Atkins diet.

  • Joe Schmoe May 5, 2011

    "A Duke University study finds that the artificial sweetener Splenda contributes to obesity, destroys beneficial inteestinal bacteria and may interfere with absorption of prescription drugs."

    Um, that 2008 Duke study was funded by the Sugar Association (the sugar industry's lobbying group). I'd take it with a grain of salt. ;-)

  • crand2003 May 5, 2011

    A Duke University study finds that the artificial sweetener Splenda contributes to obesity, destroys beneficial inteestinal bacteria and may interfere with absorption of prescription drugs.

  • airunc May 5, 2011

    It is unfortunate for folks like DAR-Patriot's husband who has to contend with diabetes by no fault of his own diet. Type 2 or adult onset diabetes is the real epidemic and there IS a direct correlation with obesity....don't be fooled. It does amaze me how many people turn away from artificial sweetners when they've been fed to lab rats for 30 years and are the most scrutinized food in the history of the world, but go on eating their partially hydrogenated oils in their "healthy" peanut butter and breads/pasta, as well as, their imported seafood, fruits and veggies.

  • DAR-Patriot May 5, 2011

    By the way, not all diabetics are overweight. My husband is 6' and has never weighed more than 175. His genes from his mother's family got him with the diabetes just as his father's genes got him high blood pressure.