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Dr.ª Marina Augusto Estevão

Nutritionist · Clinical Nutrition Specialist

Marina Augusto Estevão

Products marked “sugar free”
– are not always the best option!

HPA Magazine 18


Nowadays we come across a wide variety of products in supermarkets designated as being “Sugar free”, “Gluten free”, “Lactose free”, etc. 
These products are not always the best option for some patients, such as diabetics, people with dyslipidaemia (high levels of cholesterol or triglycerides), with high blood pressure, people that are obese or even for those looking for a healthy diet.


Products marked “sugar free”


 

“Gluten-free” products were developed as an alternative for celiac patients. Celiac disease consists of intolerance to gluten, a protein that is of plant origin and present in various cereals (wheat, rye, barley and oats).
To guarantee the organoleptic properties of the product as in the original version, many of these products, as for example gluten-free cookies, have an added amount of extra fat, especially trans-fat, (the label may also mention: “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats”).
The same occurs with some brands of sugar-free cookies to which additional fat or even salt is added to make up for the lack of sugar and in this way maintain the characteristics of the product.
In patients with high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and diabetics, this type of product does not seem to be the most suitable as it contributes to an increase of fat in the blood, also contributing to weight gain.
In the case of “lactose-free” products, they were developed for people with lactose intolerance (milk, yogurt, cheese, biscuits). People with lactose intolerance have a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, an intestinal enzyme whose main function is to break down lactose (disaccharide).
The main sugar in milk, into its two molecules: galactose and glucose (monosaccharides).

In these “lactose-free” products, lactose is already present in the form of these two monosaccharides, so these products tend to have a sweeter taste and are not considered ideal for diabetic patients for example, as they have a high glycaemic index and can contribute to hyperglycaemia.
In the case of diabetics, great care must be taken when purchasing these products, not only due to alterations in blood glucose levels.
But also due to the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is higher in diabetic patients.
The simplest products, with fewer ingredients, such as salt free rice or corn crackers, which have no added sugar and are made with olive oil only, rye or simpler wholemeal bread (from known bakery) and natural yogurts without added sugar, are healthier options in most cases when there are no associated food intolerances.
A careful reading of labels is therefore essential when going to the supermarket.