Beware of sugar-free bunnies and chicks
Candy bunnies and chicks are in every store. Easter time is a great time to remember these springtime animals molded from our favorite confectionary, chocolate.
Remember that only the brown or dark brown chocolates contain the healthful cardiac benefits. The darker the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains. White, pink and even green varieties of chocolate show up at this time of the year. They contain all the fat and calories of brown chocolate without the benefits of the cacao bean.
Beware of chocolates and other candies that contain sugar alcohols. Some of the most popular are described on the label as: sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, glycerol, ribitol, isomalt, and maltitol.
Do not confuse sugar alcohols with artificial sweeteners, aka, the pink pack, the blue pack, the yellow pack or the green pack. The artificial sweeteners contain no calories and the side effects or sensitivities of consuming them vary. Sugar alcohols are reduced calorie sweeteners.
Sugar alcohols are slightly lower in calories than sugar and do not promote tooth decay or cause a sudden increase in blood glucose as sugar does. Sugar provides 4 kcal/gram and sugar alcohols provide an average of 2 kcal/gram, half the calories as sugar.
Contrary to their name, sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates with chemical structures that only resemble sugar and alcohol. They have nothing to do with alcoholic beverages.
Because sugar alcohols are not really sugars but behave similar to sugar, foods that contain sugar alcohols can be labeled sugar-free because they replace sugar. People with diabetes often prefer consuming products with sugar alcohols because they have a slower glucose response than sugar containing products.
They are used mainly to sweeten sugar-free candies, cookies, cakes, pies, condiments, and chewing gums. The FDA classifies some of these sweeteners as generally recognized as safe and others as approved food additives.
The main side effect of consuming treats sweetened with sugar alcohols involves the gastrointestinal tract. Even a small amount can cause stomach bloating, foul smelling gas, and diarrhea; the more that is eaten, the more severe the symptoms.
Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar because they are not completely absorbed in the body. For this reason, the sugar alcohol is the culprit to the stomach distress after chomping down on a sugar-free chocolate bunny.
The sugar alcohol candies and cakes and pies and chewing gum contain other carbohydrates that can affect blood glucose. Just because a sugar free piece of pie sounds like a safe treat, the flour and fruit can still increase blood sugar.
Consider the trade off of eating a 4 ounces chocolate bunny made with sugar alcohols, complete with stomach bloating, smelly gas and diarrhea compared to the consumption of 2 ounces of a sugar laden chocolate treat without the gastrointestinal problems. The calories are very similar. The question involves quality verses quantity.
The answer lies in the rabbit’s anatomy. I have a good authority that claims that the chocolate bunny ears are healthier than the nose or the tail. Taste testing is required before placing any chocolate into a child’s basket.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator and a registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a diabetes self-management training program at Aultman-Orrville Hospital, Orrville. Contact her at email@example.com or 330–684-4776.