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Is no-sugar ice cream really a healthier alternative?

Asked by Molly, PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania

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Is no-sugar ice cream really a healthier alternative to regular ice cream? What exactly is the sugar alcohol they use in the no-sugar ice cream?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Molly. This is an excellent question that I answer quite frequently in my office. Let me start with the second part first. Sugar alcohols are modified carbohydrates that are not well absorbed in your intestines and therefore contain fewer calories and cause less of an increase in blood sugar. You can recognize them in the ingredient list by looking for words that end in "ol" like xylitol, sorbitol, and lactitol. Because they are not well absorbed, however, overconsumption of sugar alcohols can cause significant gastrointestinal symptoms including gas, bloating and diarrhea. They are generally less sweet than sucrose (table sugar), so they are often mixed with very sweet artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame potassium, to form a palatable substitute in low sugar, low carbohydrate, and diabetic or "diet" products.

Is no-sugar ice cream really healthier? Probably not in most cases. Many low-carb or no-sugar products still contain large amounts of saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. In addition, people often overconsume no-sugar products because they assume that they must be healthier, and they end up taking in more calories than they need which leads to weight gain or prevents weight loss. Finally, there is some evidence suggesting artificial sweeteners, which are often used in conjunction with sugar alcohols, may actually contribute to obesity by promoting energy intake.

So if your goal is to lose weight or stay healthy, your best bet is probably to have a small serving of regular ice cream, a serving -- no seconds -- of a low-fat and low-sugar ice cream, or better yet, a bowl of fresh fruit -- with a tablespoon or two of ice cream on top if you really love it!

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