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Are Sugar-Free Products as Healthy as They Seem?

by Coach Susan

We have all been to the grocery store in desperate search of a healthy treat. 

Sugar-free products can seem very tempting and guilt-free, but don't be fooled. Some of these highly processed "treats" can cause more harm than good, so it's essential to understand how to be a label detective and navigate your treats wisely.

This article takes a deeper dive into sugar-free foods to clear up some of the confusion.

All Sweet Tastes Increase Sugar Cravings

Eating sweets, even those that are without added sugars, can cause cravings for more sweets. Artificial sweeteners may be low in calories, but they still impart a sweet taste, which can provoke cravings for more Sugar and increase appetite.

One theory about how this works is that overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense artificial sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes. People who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find naturally sweet foods, like fruit, less appealing. Foods that aren't sweet at all, like vegetables, become unpalatable.

One study found that that diet soft drinks were associated with a 67 percent increased risk for diabetes. Although this may seem counterintuitive, it can be because people feel free to consume more calories through other foods when using these products.  

Sugar-Free Does Not Mean Calorie or Carb-Free

Besides artificial sweeteners, many sugar-free chocolates and pastries add sugar alcohols for sweetness. Sugar alcohols generally can be spotted by having the letters' OL' at the end of the ingredient. Examples of these include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These add some calories and carbs, but more importantly, they tend to cause bloating and diarrhea when consumed in large portions. 

In general, people with GI issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, should probably use these with caution with sugar alcohols.

Many Sugar-Free Products Include Saturated and Trans Fats

Be sure to check nutrient labels. They can be as high as 40 percent saturated fats, which can be just as harmful as Sugar, or potentially worse in people with high cholesterol or heart disease.

Also, take note that treats labeled sugar-free can also include other sugar-containing ingredients. For example, sugar-free Oreos contain sugar alcohols and add milk that contains natural sugars. 

Check out this article for the skinny on (healthy) fats.

Related Content: Top 10 Artificial Ingredients to Avoid

What are the Best Sugar Alternatives?

Consider a regular dark chocolate product with about 70 percent dark cocoa content for a tasty and healthy choice. Pair with strawberries to make this sweet treat an even healthier choice. Whole fruits contain natural Sugar but are highly nutritious. Their sugar comes with nutrients and fiber, and they have a much lower glycemic load than processed sugar-free foods.

Pure monk fruit and green leaf stevia are great options for adding natural sweetness without sugar or chemicals.

If you're craving something sweet, consider skipping "sugar-free" options and eat what you're craving in moderation. You may also want to check out some of our coach inspired healthy treats!

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