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October 26, 2016
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Subbing for Sugar

In another case of coincidence being stranger than truth, one of my customers asked if we had any books on sugar-free baking.

While our online bookstore is moderately extensive, our in-store selection is best described as "limited". We don't have the few gluten-free and specialty-diet titles that are in our online catalog, and as for sugar-free — well, you and I have seen a larger selection in our online communities than we have learned to expect from any source beyond Barnes & Noble or, and a string of arguments for and against sugar substitutes...

But I'm putting the cart before the horse.

The gentleman in question was looking for information on replacing the sugar in his baked goods with something else. I mentioned that Splenda's baking blend (SplendaSugar Blend) substitutes one-for-one in volume, and that for other sweeteners, the information would be on the packaging. He asked about substituting by weight. Splenda Sugar Blend is half the weight of sugar, and is a mixture of one-half sugar and one-half sucralose. I went through the basic math calculations (substitute one-half pound Splenda Baking Blend for one pound sugar).

He asked about other sweeteners, thinking aspartame might substitute in the same way. Offhand, I thought I remembered reading that aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) is sensitive to oven-temperature heat, and that sodium saccharine (Sweet 'n Low) might have similar issues. I also noted that the substitution formulas for each differed depending on sweetness, weight, performance in oven heat, and how much liquid each absorbs.

He asked about sorbitol.

I know some sugar substitutes are based on an erythritol blend — a different sugar alcohol. Some of the more active no-sugar-added bakers in our communities use erythritol, but I couldn't name any one of them offhand. I mentioned also that one of the issues with sorbitol (as well as other sugar alcohols) is that they tend to have a laxative effect (and that sorbitol is available as a prescription laxative).

I also mentioned that in comparison with the carbohydrates added, the amount of added sugar was generally negligible in the finished product (2 grams carb out of 15 in an average cookie), and that many people would prefer to have real sugar instead of the substitute.

As the conversation unfolded, this gentleman said he was surprised that I was as knowledgeable as I was about sugar substitutes. I mentioned that I've been living with diabetes for over a decade, and that I'm active in the diabetes online community. He, at age 80, has been living with type 2 diabetes for about the same amount of time. He had also mentioned that he was "a master baker" (no wonder he was more familiar with weight measures than volume!).

Each of us, individually, chooses where to spend our caloric and carbohydrate budgets. For many of us, sugar substitutes are a way to be thrifty within those confines. It's when we go beyond choosing to sweeten our coffee with Truvia versus Splenda and look to cook or bake with these sweeteners that the challenges arise.

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