by Meghana Kumar, MD

Sugar Free Assortment, 17.75 oz bag | Russell Stover

You’ve seen the aisles of enticing desserts aimed for people with diabetes in the grocery store – puddings, chocolate bars, cookies. Can you really indulge in these products guilt free?

These sweets tend to be sweetened with artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, Stevia, and aspartame. Artificial sweeteners have been linked with obesity, appetite stimulation, and glucose intolerance as well, though not nearly to the same extend as regular sugar. They can also cause bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, especially when consumed in excess.

Remember that sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean carbohydrate-free – it often simply means that the product contains no added sugar. In other words, carbohydrates come in more forms than refined white sugar. A sugar-free vanilla pudding (Jello single-serve cup) still has 10 grams of carbs, stemming from the dairy contents. While better than the 25 grams in a regular pudding, it may still impact your blood sugar and certainly is not a license to eat without inhibition. One Voortman’s sugar-free chocolate chip cookie contains 14 grams of carbohydrates (coming from flour), but no added sugars. This distinction is especially important for people who need to count and dose insulin for carbohydrates precisely.

Calorie and saturated fat content often do not differ significantly between sugar-free chocolate and regular desserts. For example, a chocolate bar still has fat and calories from milk and cocoa butter. So keep in mind that, carbs aside, there are usually healthier choices than highly processed sugar-free snacks – fresh fruits, a scoop of cottage cheese, carrot sticks and hummus, etc.

Some people may find moderation with regular desserts to be a more satisfying and equally healthy choice. For instance, 2 pieces of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Nuggets with almonds have 10 grams of carbs, whereas 3 pieces of Hershey’s sugar-free Special Dark chocolates have 13 grams of carbs. If you can stop yourself at one or two pieces, then the former may be a preferable option.  

In short, don’t just rely on advertising (the people who design food packaging are savvy!) – look at the nutritional labels and make the decision for yourself about whether a food item is a healthy choice or not.