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Sweet and Sugar-free

Rise In Adult Diabetes and Low-Caloric Diets Create Dema


June 16, 2008
By Stacy Bradshaw


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Twizzlers, Reese’s and York Peppermint Patty – meet your sugar-free counterparts.

Twizzlers, Reese’s and York Peppermint Patty – meet your sugar-free counterparts.
 
Traditional candy brands are in for a mighty challenge with major suppliers Hershey’s, Nestle, and Russell Stover fueling the sugar-free candy market, but some feel the calorific classics have nothing to worry about.
 
sugarfreeWith adult diabetes on the rise and diet-savvy consumers opting for low-glycemic diets, sugar-free confectionary is a seemingly worthy opponent. But its strength will depend on consumer responses to quality, taste, and the perceived dangers of sugar substitutes.

Hershey’s uses a sugar alcohol, lactitol, in their new sugar-free Twizzlers Strawberry Twists and Reese’s White Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures, both recently added to their existing sugar-free line-up.
 
The benefit, for diabetics and those choosing to lower their caloric intake, is that lactitol and other sugar alcohols are said to provide less calories than sugar, according to Hershey’s “Sweets, Treats & Desserts: Strategies and Recipes for People with Diabetes.”

Sharon Zeiler, senior manager of nutrition initiatives and strategies for the Canadian Diabetes Association, hopes that because it’s Hershey’s, and “they’re a very good company, with a good reputation,” maybe these products will taste more like the real thing. But her experience has been that sugar-free products just aren’t as good.

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Diabetics can only have up to 10 per cent of their daily caloric intake as sugars. And although she recommends having none at all, Zeiler recognizes that candy is a pleasant indulgence and can be eaten in moderation. She  doesn’t think candy sweetened with sugar alcohols like lactitol can create enough of an advantage to recommend them as alternatives to real chocolate or candy.
 
“If you are going to indulge, I say enjoy it … have the real stuff,” said Zeiler.

The Canadian Diabetes Association acknowledged that sugar alcohols do increase blood glucose more slowly than sugar. But with a chocolate bar, sugar is not the only issue for diabetics and people trying to lower their caloric intake, explained Zeiler.
 
“Because most of the calories come from fat, you’re only saving about 10 per cent of the calories of a normal chocolate bar – that’s not a heck of a lot.”
 
What concerns Zeiler is what they’re substituting the sugar with. Any more than 10 grams of sugar alcohol can cause stomach upset and diarrhea, especially in children, she warned.
 
Caffeine, which is found in both sugar-free and ‘real’ chocolate, is also off-limits for a lot of diabetics. Generally, caffeine is a concern for people with high blood pressure, explained Zeiler.
 
“70-80 per cent of diabetics develop some sort of heart disease.”

Zeiler doesn’t think the sugar-free trend will affect diabetics, who rely on moderation and self-control – not a product label – to monitor their blood glucose levels.
 
Both Hershey’s and the Canadian Diabetes Association stress moderation as the most reliable guideline when monitoring sugar intake. The CDA acknowledged people with diabetes can eat sweetened foods in moderation and that the effect on blood glucose levels will vary.
 
Sugar alcohols do have other benefits: “most substitutes for sugar do not contribute to tooth decay as do sugars,” said Euan Swan, manager of dental programs, Canadian Dental Association.
 
Perhaps the overwhelming growth and continuation of the sugar-free gum market can be contributed to this. 
The Canadian Dental Association has a Seal of Approval program – Trident Gum, for example, has the seal on it because it contains Xylitol (a sugar alcohol), which is safer to chew than sugar gum, according to Swan.

And if history does indeed repeat itself, sugar-free candy may be looking at the same high-revenues as sugar-free gum.
 
Diet Coke seems to be doing pretty well with their aspartame-infused cola, despite the negative literature circulating about that particular sugar substitute. That’s right, just type in aspartame in your search engine and you might come across some alarming headings like: Aspartame Kills; The Real Truth about Aspartame; or What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You!

It seems difficult to ignore such ominous warnings, but Health Canada assures us the allegations are not supported.
 
“There is some negative literature out there about aspartame but there is no scientific research to back it up,” confirmed Zeiler.

Anti-aspartame rhetoric isn’t stopping Swan from enjoying his favourite diet Coke, either.

So why all the concern about sugar substitutes when they’ve been deemed safe by Health Canada, are acknowledged by the Canadian Diabetes Association as safe for diabetics and are found in so many of our favourite indulgences?  Can it be attributed to more than just our wide spread paranoia, and how will this affect the sugar-free confectionary market?
 
As long as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and other federal departments are our authorities on food safety, we can assume that many consumers will agree with Health Canada when they say the benefits of permitting the use of sugar alcohols in certain foods are greater than the potential risks for, say, laxative effects.

For Zeiler, it’s just not worth it.
 
She speaks highly of other sugar substitutes like Splenda, which is considered quite safe because it’s so much sweeter than sugar.

“You can use such a small amount. In general, it’s well accepted by people,” said Zeiler.

In the end, it may come down to just that; whether people will like it or “whether or not the product is really good.”

Because reducing sugar consumption is important from the dental perspective, Swan’s guess is the trend will increase.

“There will be more and more food manufacturers producing sugar-free products.”

Hershey’s introduced their sugar-free candies in 2003, and has presumably expanded the line on account of its success. All Hershey’s sugar-free chocolate products have been reformulated to tackle the issues commonly associated with sugar-free chocolate, namely taste and texture.
 
Assuming consumers’ motivations for buying sugar-free include both health and taste issues, and the market’s current batch of sugar substitutes maintain their CFIA approvals and support from Health Canada, sugar-free confectionary from Hershey’s and other major suppliers will definitely be something to look out for.