By now, we all know that too much sugar in our diet is not a good thing. And we’ve learned to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and sugar-free foods instead of highly processed, sugar-added options. But did you know that many of the so-called “sugar-free” foods we see in stores are still sweetened by something that stems from sugar? It’s true – reduced-calorie sweeteners are frequently used as sugar substitutes. And although they‘re made from real sugar, they still allow the manufacturer to write “sugar-free” on the package.

Sugar comes in many forms – not just the brown or white crystalized powder in your kitchen). Product labeling may lead you to believe you’re eating a “sugar-free food,” so try not to be fooled! Take a look at the ingredients lists in your cabinet and see if you can spot any of these sneaky sugar alcohols such as Erythritol, Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine), Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol.

Sugar alcohols are not to be confused with common sweeteners like Splenda, Sweet-n-Low and Equal, which are made mainly from sucralose and dextrose.

Beware – foods with sugar alcohols (which, despite the name, do not contain actual alcohol) can still pack a large amount of carbohydrates, calories, and fat – so when you see “sugar-free,” don’t automatically assume the food is nutritionally better for you.

Sugar alcohols are not all bad, though – in general, they should carry fewer calories than foods made with sugar or other sweeteners. In addition, they usually have fewer carbohydrates, which helps keep our blood-glucose levels in check! That’s why sugar alcohol makes a great alternative to regular sugar for people trying to lose weight, people with diabetes or those who otherwise need to monitor their glucose levels. Often, the biggest issue is that we end up eating a larger quantity of “sugar-free” foods – compared to a comparable sugary food – simply because we think they’re diet freebies.

Take a peek at the labels in your cabinet. If your packages are covered with statements like, “sugar-free” or “no sugar added,” you’re likely consuming sugar alcohols. Limit these just like you’d limit natural sugars. Remember – moderation is the key to healthy living. Also remember that “sugar-free” cookies and candies are still … cookies and candies – and therefore void of nearly all nutrients. If you’re craving something sweet, grab some fresh berries or yogurt with honey instead!

For more information, please contact Kim Miles, County Extension Agent – Family & Consumer Sciences at 325-646-0386 or kamiles@ag.tamu.edu.