Sticky math

Sugarfree SyrupIt’s no wonder we have so much trouble figuring this stuff out.

What you see above are four bottles of “Sugar Free Syrup” from my local supermarket. But as the labels show, all sugar-free syrups are not created equal. It’s no wonder we have such a hard time deciding, and I can’t blame Katy for going with the real stuff — at least then she knows what she’s getting. (Yes, as I went through this exercise, I thought of a Bigfoot blog from over four months ago…).

You can click on the image for a closer look, but here are the key take-aways, as I see them:

  • Cary’s Sugar Free Syrup: 12 carbs, 0 sugars, 11 sugar alcohols. Net carbs: 12 – 11 = 1
  • Log Cabin Sugar Free : 8 carbs, 0 sugars, 7 sugar alcohols. Net carbs:  8 – 7 = 1
  • Shop-Rite (store brand) Sugar Free Syrup: 11 carbs, 10 sugar alcohols. Net carbs: 11 – 10 = 1
  • Vermont Sugar Free: 5 carbs, 4 sugar alcohols. Net carbs: 5 – 4 = 1

(Someone, somewhere, spread the word that carbs from sugar alcohols, and sometimes from fiber, don’t count.)

Now, let me say first off that I believe the whole sugar alcohol/net carb thing is a crock of shit. Seriously. A bag of sugar-alcohol-sweetened candies once led me to an uncomfortably intimate encounter with a public restroom (see also: laxative effect).

Cary’s is the veteran of the pack. They were probably the first to make sugar-free syrup, way back in the 80s, and are generally the sugar-free syrup of choice at places like Denny’s, IHOP, and most diners. Its age in the business is shown by the label which fits it to an exchange diet. But the top-line carb count of this brand is the worst. I’m sure it used to be lower, back when they sweetened with aspartame, but there’s something weird about the labeling of sucralose-sweetened products, and I can’t quite figure how to work it. It was also the highest price.

Next highest on the price-chart was the Vermont brand. I could probably live with a measly 5 carbs, even without subtracting anything from it. I’ve had it before; it flows like water and is hardly the syrup-y consistency people have grown to expect. But I don’t like sticky lips and sticky utensils, so that doesn’t quite bother me.

The Log Cabin was on sale, which pushed the iconic brand below Vermont. The marketing side of my brain (the lowest grade of all that I got in any college class was in Marketing, by the way)  tells me that they’ve got a reputation to protect and they wouldn’t put their name on a jar of maple-flavored juice. With more than 50% more top-line carbs, though, there could be consequences.

As expected, the store brand was the cheapest, but also nearly tied for the highest on the carb-scale.

Unless you think they’re all tied on that scale — at one.

After pondering these bottles for nearly an eternity (while I took pictures and other shoppers grew suspicious), I elected to take the Log Cabin. My rationalization: it’s mostly for my non-D son who can afford the carbs, and if I use it, I don’t come close to the 1/4 cup serving-size anyway. Plus, I was curious, and it was relatively cheap.

With all the varieties available (there were one or two more), how am I supposed to choose? Is there something else on the label I shoud look at?

By taste? I haven’t made a shopping decision based on taste in years. Sad but true.

* * *

PS: Katy, I now understand the dilemma of pancake syrup-buying, and fully support your decision to choose whatever your palette desires and whatever your mind can comprehend.

PPS: If you’re reading this out loud (or aloud in your mind), it’s pronounced SEER-up. Remember, I’m from New Jersey. Saying “SIR-rup” is just weird.

PPPS: When I think of syrup, I think of waffles. When I think of waffles, I think of that place on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights that I used to always pass with the sign boasting “AFFLES / ICE CREAM / UNCH”. (Not a typo, the W and L had fallen off). Now I’m sad, because of what Hurricane Sandy did there last year, and what a raging fire is doing to my teenage stomping grounds right now.

Posted on September 13, 2013, in Diabetes. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I absolutely can’t stand the taste of the sugar-free syrups. maybe it’s the Canadian in me but I doubt it – none of them actually taste like maple syrup. They taste like “table syrup” which is fine if you like that.
    I like peanut butter on my pancakes but when I do use maple syrup I want the real stuff regardless of the sugar content. I’m only using a couple drops for the taste any way.
    Also…. 1/4c serving size? seriously, that’s A LOT of syrup!

    I like your end choice. 🙂


  2. Ah this post brought back so many memories for me! I used to eat Cary’s syrup ALL the time when I was little.

    I’ve never heard that sugar alcohols don’t count but I do subtract out the fiber because I heard that somewhere…maybe that’s why I can’t get my I:C ratio correct 😛

    I’m with Scully above-I don’t usually use syrup anymore but when I do I say screw it and go ahead with the sugary stuff 🙂


  3. My son found a sugar-free syrup he likes: Target brand. Ew! I love real maple syrup, and hate fake foods (exception for Diet Coke), but if the chemicals prevent a spike and keep the child happy…


  4. HOLD THE PHONE: I’m from New Jersey and I say SIR-up.


  5. I’m with Scully, gotta go for the real thing.. or peanut butter (or both, yum!)
    The scoop I was given on sugar alcohols though is that they only half count i.e. 10g sugar alcohol carbs = 5g real carbs
    Rarely do I find the “sugar free” stuff to be worth it.


    • We were told the same as Mel – with sugar alcohols or fiber only subtract 1/2 the amount listed from total sugar alcohol (or fiber – if over 5g). My t1 is 10 and has always had the real stuff so if I want her to eat SF I have to get something that is close to the consistency of REAL (and by real, I mean real imitation, full sugar kind) syrup or she won’t go for it (nor will I). I don’t want sweet, maple-y flavored water on my breakfast. My vote would have gone to log cabin too. We most recently used a brand called Maple Grove Farms (because it was the only one available to purchase where I went) it is 10g carbs with 10g sugar alcohols. I count it as 5-10 usually rounding up with whatever the pancake/waffle count is because breakfast foods are the devil for my kid and she’s always high afterwards anyway.


  6. Y’know, I can never carb count pancakes right anyway, so I end up crashing after whether I use SF syrup or not. Yes – SF syrup tastes like chemicals, but I have gotten so used to it that I can’t consume regular maple syrup without gagging. (See also: Regular Coke.)


  7. Scott, I vote for the real stuff too. Tremendous spike to the BGs, but easier to figure. Oh, and the correct pronunciation is whatever it is locally. Enjoy your breakfast.


  8. I rarely eat pancakes or waffles, and at home I usually just have them with real butter. But if we’re out and I’m indulging, I always go with real syrup too. For one thing, the pancakes have so many carbs a bit of syrup won’t make that much difference in the end. And second, and most important, I’ve always hated for my food to get soggy, so I use just the smallest drizzle of syrup anyway. 🙂


  9. Minnesotan here and I vote for “SEER-up”.


  10. How have I NEVER heard about subtracting sugar alcohols? (Fiber, I knew.) Another point scored for the DOC spreading the knowledge. Thanks, Scott!!


    • Remember that bag of SF chocolates I wrote about? Well, in between that and the longstanding encounter with the mens room (at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, by the way) was a seriously massive low, which I neglected to mention. It was a result of thinking that all of that luxurious sweet goodness couldn’t possibly be so low in carbs. Thanks for reminding me of that.


      • Ah ha! Over the years, I’ve resorted to eating less and less sugar free stuff (for many of the common reasons – taste, fecal urgency, ewww) so it’s not been that much of an issue for me carb counting, but every now and then I’ll come across something with sugar alcohols. I haven’t tested it in action, but next time, I will think to! (because it could also explain some past lows I had accounting for those sugar alcohol carbs when maybe I shouldn’t have.)


  11. Joseph’s Sugar Free Syrup is THE BEST! I’ll even use it in baking instead of agave syrup or maple syrup. We’ve never been able to subtract out sugar alcohols – every time I do she spikes something fierce. Same goes with fiber. For Ella, we have to dose for total carbs regardless of what makes up those carbs.


  12. I subtract all of the sugar alcohols. I do not know how I settled on this method, and I am pretty sure it’s totally wrong, but now I am stuck with it, because whatever cockamamie way we are counting these things is working (or, more likely, not not-working.)


  13. I tend to not buy things that are sugar free but loaded with sugar alcohols. Also because I ate a piece of “sugar free” fudge once that nearly killed me.

    If I am having syrup, I am already going to spike because a) its 99% chance in the morning and b)it’s going to be poured on carbs. I just eat what I enjoy and move on.

    Mind you, I bought a bottle of Maple Syrup at a farm I visited last year which I am still working on. I don’t use syrup a lot/ever since waffles and pancakes are merely a whisper in the wind to me.


  14. We gave up on sugar free syrup … We use the real stuff but stick to just one tablespoon for a serving size … Plus we only eat almond meal pancakes which are carb free … Katy posted that recipe awhile back … Thanks Katy!


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