What You Need to Know About Cooking With Sugar Substitutes

Yes you can eat sugar if you have diabetes—as long as it fits into your total carbohydrate allowance for the day. Using sweeteners is one way to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding a lot of extra carbs.

using sugar substitutes when bakingPeople with diabetes can eat sugar but it must be consumed as part of a healthy meal plan. Using sweeteners can satisfy a sweet tooth with fewer carbs.

You’ve certainly heard this myth before: “If you have diabetes, you can’t eat sugar”. That's simply not true. What’s important to understand is that carbohydrate and sugar are one and the same: carbohydrates break down into sugar and that’s the part that affects blood sugar. If you have diabetes, eating sugar is possible as long as you count the total grams of carbohydrate as part of your total carbohydrate allowance for the day and the meal. Consuming sugar needs to be done within the confines of a healthy eating plan.

Every year, the American Diabetes Association publishes its Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Those guidelines clearly state: “There is no single ideal amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for people with diabetes. This must be individualized."

The guidelines also suggest that carbohydrate intake should come from vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes and dairy products over other sources that contain added fats, sugar or sodium (like processed cakes and cookies!).

Additional Highlights

  • People with diabetes should limit or avoid intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (from any caloric sweetener including high fructose corn syrup and sucrose) to reduce the risk of weight gain, fatty liver and increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
  • The recommendation for the general population to reduce sodium to less than 2300 mg per day is also appropriate for people with diabetes, with additional reductions individualized for those who have high blood pressure. Studies continue to show most Americans eat far more sodium than they should.
  • Table sugar and other forms of sweeteners (honey, molasses, brown sugar, etc.) can be included as part of a diabetes meal plan but should be minimized and not take the place of healthier options. What's important is that you keep close track of your total grams of carbohydrate every day.

Using Sugar and Sugar Substitutes 

Sugar provides more than just sweetness in food. Baking with sugar also gives food texture and color. In most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by at least one-third without changing the taste and texture.

Fruit juices and frozen fruit juice concentrates can be used to sweeten baked goods. Since these baked goods are high in carbohydrates, it important to eat these treats in moderation and to count every gram of carbohydrate, not exceeding your recommended total for that meal as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Sugar-free products can give you added flexibility in your meal plan because they generally contain fewer grams of carbohydrate and are typcially lower in fat and calories. However, this is not always the case. Be sure to read the nutrition facts label and compare regular to sugar-free products to confirm there is an actual benefit.

Artificial sweeteners provide almost no calories and will not affect your blood sugar levels because they are not metabolised by the body. However, not all artificial sweeteners can be used for baking and prolonged cooking. Read the labels and only use those that say the product can be used for baking.

Two readily available, one-to-one sugar substitutes that can be found on most supermarket shelves are Splenda and Twin (Twin has both a white sugar replacement and a brown sugar replacement product).

These sugar substitutes are excellent for prolonged cooking and baking. Neither leaves that tell-tale bitter or metallic aftertaste that many sugar substitutes have when heated and are measured out like common table sugar—a cup for a cup; 1 tablespoon for 1 tablespoon, etc.

Newer sugar substitutes on the market include Stevia. Stevia is made from a plant native to South America that and has been around for centuries. SweetLeaf is a sweetener made from stevia extract, and both Truvia and Pure Via are stevia-based. These products have been FDA approved, while whole-leaf stevia or extracts have not. Stevia is not a one-to-one substitute for sugar, so the manufacturer recommends you consult their conversion tables.

Agave nectars and syrups are commonly marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar and honey. Unfortunately, the fructans in these products are broken down into smaller fructose chains, which means that they still affect blood sugar levels like high fructose corn syrup.

Tips for Baking with Sugar Substitutes

Here, some does and don'ts to following when using sugar substitutes to make your favorite sweets.

  1. The manufacturer of Splenda suggests that when you're baking cakes with Splenda, for every 1 cup of Splenda used, add 1/2 cup sifted nonfat dry milk powder and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients.
  2. When baking bar cookies, brownies, muffins, and quick breads, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda for every 1 cup of Splenda used.
  3. In muffins and quick breads, also add 1 to 2 tablespoons honey or molasses for extra flavor and moistness. For further tips on using Splenda in your holiday cooking and baking, visit their website.
  4. The manufacturer of Twin encourages experimenting with reduced amounts of Twin to acheive the desired amount of sweetness. Recipes using more than 1/2 cup of Twin are not recommended by the makers of the product.

Want to start baking? Click here for recipes using sugar substitutes.



Updated on: June 29, 2017
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