Health, Mind & Body

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Smart sugar substitutes for diabetics

Monitoring glucose levels in the blood to ensure they are at an acceptable level is a vital task in a diabetic's life. Unstable levels can mean the difference between living a healthy life or illness and even death.

Eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated with plenty of water and possibly using medication or insulin injections are a few of the ways to maintain one's glucose levels.

When a diabetic eats, the sugar in his or her food is digested into glucose. Sugar is normally used by cells for energy. Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas and helps to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats while removing excess glucose from the blood, which could prove toxic. Individuals who have no insulin production (type 1 diabetes) and those whose insulin is inefficient at moving sugar out of the bloodstream (type 2 diabetes) may have to take insulin and regulate their sugar intake to keep the body in balance.

Although having diabetes means a lifelong regimen of watching what you eat, it does not mean you can't enjoy your diet. Thanks to a wide variety of sugar substitutes, most diabetics can indulge in desserts and other foods in moderation.

For those ready to satisfy their sweet tooth, here are some sweeteners that are approved by the American Diabetes Association.

* Sucralose: This sweetener, which often goes by the brand name Splenda®, is one of the more popular supplements. The body does not recognize sucralose as a carbohydrate or a sugar, which means it will not be metabolized as such. Sucralose is heat-resistant, which means it can be used for cooking and baking.

* Stevia: Relatively new to the commercial market, stevia is an all-natural sweetener, unlike many of the other sugar substitutes. It comes from a South American plant of the same name and has a strong track record of safety. The sweetener has zero calories and no glycemic index.

* Saccharine: Saccharine is also safe, but diabetics must only consume it in small amounts. It also can be mixed with hot or cold food.

* Aspartame: This sweetener also has zero calories and is found in many foods and beverages. However, aspartame is best avoided when baking because it loses sweetness when heated.

* Acesulfame potassium: A little goes a long way with this product because it is much sweeter than sugar. It is also usually combined with other sweeteners because it can have a bitter aftertaste.

Not all sugar substitutes are good for diabetics, however. The Mayo Clinic warns that sugar alcohols, particularly mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol, can increase blood sugar levels. These products also may cause stomach discomfort and diarrhea.

Before trying sugar substitutes, diabetics should consult with their physicians to see if it is safe and discuss potential side effects or usage restrictions, as some artificial sweeteners can cause allergic reactions in some people.