Sugar-Free Foods to Avoid

Find out when eating the real thing is a healthier choice

Ice Cream: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar-free ice cream
Pick: Arctic Zero

While it’s not exactly a health food, an occasional ice cream treat can be part of a balanced diet, but which one should you reach for? “I would go with a “plan B” on this,” says Rehan Jalai, a Beverly Hills nutritionist who has worked with celebs like Ben Affleck, Nicole Scherzinger, and Sylvester Stallone. Jalai likes Arctic Zero because of its lower calorie, whey protein, and fiber content. (We like that it’s sweetened with a reasonable amount of cane sugar, no artificial stuff).

Vanilla (or Any Flavor) Latte: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar syrup
Pick: Sugar free and nonfat milk

Like to sweeten up your daily latte? If you are trying to lose weight, go with a sugar-free latte made with non-fat milk, says Susie Garcia, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition for your Lifestyle in San Francisco, California. You’ll save about 140 calories, and add a milk serving into your diet—so you’re getting some nutritional value (compared to a plain cup of coffee), Garcia says.

Ketchup: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar free
Pick: Regular (organic or homemade whenever possible)

“This one comes down to taste,” Garcia says. Many sugar-free products just don’t taste as good, and you may end up using more of it (translation: adding more calories) to compensate for the flavor. If you don’t use a lot of ketchup, I would say go with the real thing, Garcia says. Since many brands use high-fructose corn syrup, try to find an organic or homemade version (we love this easy recipe for homemade ketchup made with agave nectar and dates for added fiber.)

Candy: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar-free stuff
Pick: The real thing (in moderation)

When it comes to candy, grab the real deal so your body gets exactly what it’s expecting, says Elizabeth Brown, a registered dietitian, holistic chef, and creator of “I would love to say, ‘get organic brands when you can find them,’ but I know the reality is that we often grab candy on-the-go, like at a gas station. When a craving hits, enjoy a real bar in its original (not “super”) size. And while fruit is nature’s candy, sometimes you just want a piece of candy, and that’s OK in moderation,” Brown says.

Boxed Cake or Brownie Mix: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar-free mixes
Pick: Homemade

“I can just envision the overweight teenager or the teenager with an eating disorder buying these things thinking they’re “safer” to consume and won’t exacerbate their problems,” Brown says. “I really wish these things were outlawed. Better yet, no boxed cakes at all. Learn to make them from scratch, and you’ll see consumption go way down but quality and appreciation for these ‘treats’ go way up.” Next time you want to bake a cake, why not spend five extra minutes and add a few more simple ingredients to make your own from scratch? (We just love this delicious recipe for buttermilk chocolate cake that adds applesauce for sweetness. Just be sure to stick to one serving).

Jam or Jelly: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Regular
Pick: Fruit

Because they are lower in calories and sugar, sugar-free fruit preserves can be a good product for someone trying to lose weight or is diabetic, says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Pick jams that have fruit as the first ingredient on the list, Sheth says. Better yet? Use fresh fruit in place of jelly. Using sliced fruit provides natural sweetness plus fiber and more natural nutrition than a processed and preserved jelly product.

Juice or Teas: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar Free
Pick: Unsweetened

The savings (of sugar-free drinks) in calories is small, and very few people are satiated with the small serving size (8 oz.), says Erin MacDonald, a registered dietitian, nutrition coach, and president of U Rock Girl. “Most bottled drinks contain 2-2 1/2 servings per bottle, but people consider the whole bottle to be one serving. Instead, drink water or sparkling water and squeeze some fresh orange, tangerine, lemon, or lime in it for great flavor.”

Maple Syrup: Sugar Free or Regular?

Skip: Sugar Free
Pick: Regular

“Go regular,” Jalai says. “The light or sugar-free versions are usually full of sugar alcohols like Malitol, which can wreak havoc on your digestive system.” Plus, pure maple syrup contains nutrients like manganese, riboflavin (B12), and zinc, making it a pretty nutritional sugar alternative. (But be sure to look for “real maple syrup” on the label, pancake syrups aren’t the same and most use corn syrup—not maple- for flavoring).

Sweetener: “Natural” Sweetener (Agave Nectar, Stevia) or Sugar?

Skip: Sugar
Pick: Stevia

“I recommend organic, natural, unprocessed sweeteners like stevia, which have a low-glycemic effect on the body (meaning they won’t spike blood sugar),” says Marissa Vicario, Certified Holistic Health Coach and Founder of Marissa’s Well-being and Health. But beware; Even too much of the good stuff can be bad. “In excess, even natural sweeteners can intensify sugar cravings, so I recommend being selective about when they are used and in what quantities.”

The Bottom Line

When it comes to making your decision about whether to use sugar-free foods, remember that although these foods may be sugar-free, they’re still made with white, processed flours and often contain trans-fast (partially hydrogenated oil), which will still raise blood sugar levels and promote the production of triglycerides and LDL, MacDonald says. They’re also high-calorie items. People who consume sugar-free versions of foods often perceive them to be healthier, so they eat more of them (also known as the &”health halo” effect). That means they’re still consuming a lot of calories, making it very difficult to achieve their health goals (blood-sugar control, weight loss).

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