Label Reading and Diabetes: Sugar Alcohol

 Breyers Chocolate Carb Smart Ice Cream

Nutritional Info

Serving Size: 1/2 cup Servings Per Container: 12


Calories 90
Total fat 6g
Saturated fat 3.5g
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 15mg
Sodium 75mg
Total Carbohydrates 13g
Dietary fiber 4g
Sugars 4g
Sugar Alcohol 5g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 4%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 8%
Iron 4%


Milk, Skim Milk, Cream, Sorbitol, Polydextrose, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Whey, Glycerine, Cellulose Gel, Propylene Glycol Monoesters, Mono And Diglycerides, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Carob Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Sucralose (Splenda ® Brand), Acesulfame Potassium, Carrageenan, Natural Flavor.

*Net Carbs Calculation: For those watching their carbs, count only 4 grams. From 13g total carbohydrate, subtract 5g of sugar alcohols and 4g of fiber, as these have minimal impact on blood sugar.

**Above information from the Breyer’s website via this link:  


For anyone with diabetes, the sugar alcohol listing on the Nutrition Facts Panel is definitely a source of confusion.  Sugar alcohol appears as a line item when food contains certain artificial sweeteners and is touted as “sugar-free” or “low-carb”.   In the ice cream example above, it is primarily the sorbitol that is contributing to the sugar alcohol content, even though there are other artificial sweeteners listed in the ingredient list.  Sugar alcohols generally have an “ol” at the end of their name and include: sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol.  They also have fewer calories and carbohydrates than natural sugars and starches.   They do not contain alcohol, by the way.

According to, a reputable website and resource for people with diabetes, you can subtract some carbohydrate from the total amount when sugar alcohol is present.  If the food contains greater than 5 gm of sugar alcohol per serving, you can subtract half of the grams of sugar alcohol from the total carbs.  The same goes for foods with greater than 5 gm of fiber per serving. 

In the example above, half of the 5 gm of sugar alcohol may be subtracted from the total carbohydrate, resulting in a new total (or “net”) carbohydrate amount of: 10 gm.  Half of 5 is 2.5, but I just rounded it to 3.  13 gm – 3 gm = 10 gm total (“net”) carbohydrate.  Since the amount of fiber per serving is less than 5 gm, no amount should be further subtracted from the total carbs. 

You can see that Breyers has done their calculation differently, subtracting the total 5 gm of sugar alcohol and 4 gm of fiber per serving with a result of 4 gm of “net” carbohydrate.  13 gm – 5 gm – 4 gm = 4 gm total (“net”) carbohydrate.

So, which calculation do you go with?  The important thing to be mindful of is that sugar alcohols certainly do effect blood sugar, although at about half of the calories and carbohydrate of natural sugar.  For this reason, it is best to go with the conservative approach suggested by  since sugar alcohols can have varying effects on blood sugar.  Also, take it slow when it comes to foods with sugar alcohols as they may have a laxative effect as well.

Foods with artificial sweeteners can be helpful to people with diabetes, or anyone who is trying to lose weight or cut back on sugar.  Reading the Nutrition Facts Panel is your first step to incorporating these foods into your healthy diet.  By looking at the total carbohydrate, and calculating a new “net” carb amount as needed, you will be on the right track to better glucose control.  Don’t forget to pay close attention to the serving size as well – how many of us really eat just 1/2 cup of ice cream?


4 Comments on “Label Reading and Diabetes: Sugar Alcohol”

  1. Christine Smith says:

    Thanks for simplifying this – good info!

  2. ur brotha says:

    I can confirm “the laxative effect” lol. Thanks Char!

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