Sugar-Free and Low-Sugar Jams and Preserves

Strawberry jam in glass, strawberries and bread with jam on wood
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Jams and preserves may be thought to be one of the contributors to a high sugar diet, so when you're going low carb, you may not feel you should have it. But if you want a little jam to spread on your low-carb muffin or pancake, you can go for it, if you follow this guide and be mindful of how much of it you eat. One look at the label of most jams is enough to send you running the other way for fear of wrecking your low carb diet! There are alternatives, but the labeling can be confusing. Here’s a brief guide to sugar-free and reduced-sugar jams and preserves that will help you satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping you squarely within your carb counts and food limits on your low carb diet.

Regular Jam

Regular jam is loaded with sugar, which contributes to taste, mouth-feel, and shelf-life. Nowadays it is often sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. One tablespoon generally contains around 12-14 grams of sugar. I don't have to tell you that you should steer clear of the regular jam in any amount. That's why we compiled this list to give you alternatives to this high sugar, high-calorie food.

All Fruit Spread — 100% Fruit Spread

You’d think all fruit spreads would be lower in sugar than regular jam, but not so much. Most of these are not big sugar savings, as they usually use high sugar/low-nutrient fruit concentrates, such as apple juice, as sweeteners. I’ve seen these spreads ranging from 10-14 grams of sugar per tablespoon. So you know, it turns out that the three most common juices used as sweeteners are very low in nutrients: apple, white grape, and pear. They contribute sugar and not much else.​

Low-Sugar Jam or Preserves

So how can you beef up the nutrition with these normally sugary products? Low-sugar preserves or jams have sugar, but much less of it than regular jam or all-fruit spread. Sometimes they make up the difference with artificial sweeteners. They are required to have at least 25% less sugar than the “reference product” (regular jam) to be called "low-sugar" so you at least know you're getting the least amount of sugar a brand may offer. The ones I’ve seen contain about half the sugar of their full-sugar counterparts.

Sugar-Free Jam or Preserves or Fruit Spreads

These jams usually contain other sweeteners such as artificial sweeteners, polydextrose, and other sugar substitutes which may or may not add to your carb counts or glycemic load. There are some that include natural sugars from the fruit, but you should look for "sugar-free," which means that no other sugar can be added, including extra fruit concentrates. The ones I’ve seen have 2-5 grams of sugar per tablespoon. These are the lesser of the jam and preserves evil. Those catering to the low-carb crowd are more likely to have two gram of sugar per tablespoon. Three brands which have 2 grams of sugar per tablespoon are Hero (pictured), Jok 'n'Al (which is my favorite), and Steel's.

There is at least one brand of fruit spread I am aware of which has no fruit in it at all — the fruit flavoring is entirely artificial (and, in my opinion, tastes like it). That brand is Walden Farms. It is labeled as having no calories or carbohydrates.

The bottom line is going sugar-free to get the least carb count, but know when you're giving up nutritional value for that lower number. Jam can really liven up certain dishes but use in moderation. No more than a tablespoon or so is enough.

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