What’s the truth about sugar alcohols? Are they good or bad as a sugar replacement?
Sugar alcohols have been around the low-calorie and low-carb world for years, found in protein bars, sugar-free candies and desserts. These sugars aren’t the same or as well known as the “artificial sweeteners” like sucralose, saccharin, stevia and aspartame.
What Are Sugar Alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are non-sugar sweeteners also known as polyols. In general they are less sweet than sucrose and are often referred to as sweet carbohydrates. They are hybrids of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules but don’t actually contain any alcohol. The sugar alcohols xylitol and sorbitol are both found naturally in berries, fruits, vegetables and mushrooms.
Commercial products that contain sugar alcohols must list it in the ingredients and in the carb count on the nutrition facts label.
Let’s look at some common ones I’ve seen on products at the store recently:
Common Sugar Alcohols
Erythritol is used in low calorie foods. It has almost no calories, is about 70% as sweet as sucrose and doesn’t appear to cause gastro problems. It’s the only sugar alcohol the body absorbs rather than passes to the colon for fermentation. It also doesn’t affect blood sugar or insulin.
- Calories per gram – 0.2
- Glycemic Index – 0
Maltitol is used in sugar-free desserts, candy and other products. It’s 90% as sweet as sucrose with half the calories. Once it reaches your colon the bacteria will start fermenting causing bloating, abdominal pain and even diarrhea. Blood glucose and insulin affects are minimal.
- Calories per gram – 2.1
- Glycemic Index – 36
Sorbitol is used in diet sodas, sugar-free ice cream and desserts. It’s half as sweet as sucrose so consumption may be greater to attain a level of sweetness. It doesn’t appear to affect insulin or blood glucose.
- Calories per gram – 2.6
- Glycemic Index – 9
Xylitol is the favorite choice for sugar-free chewing gum companies. Some other products include; cough syrup, toothpaste and chewable vitamins. It tastes like sucrose with half the calories, minimal effect on blood sugar and none on insulin levels.
- Calories per gram – 2.4
- Glycemic Index – 13
Pros & Cons of Sugar Alcohols
Pros: health benefits include:
- Provides a dietary fiber with a prebiotic effect feeding friendly bacteria to the gut.
- May increase bone mineral content protecting against osteoporosis.
- Protects against tooth decay.
- Studies have shown an increase in skin collagen production.
Cons: digestive problems:
- Digestive problems are the main concern with sugar alcohols especially when consumed in large amounts.
- Gas, bloating and diarrhea are the most common symptoms with sugar alcohols. The body doesn’t digest most of them causing it to travel to the large intestine where it’s metabolized by gut bacteria.
- People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may want to avoid sugar alcohols.
What has been your experience with sugar alcohols? Do you think they are a healthier sugar replacement?
When shopping for healthy foods my hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar) is always on my mind. So I’m thrilled to have found low-glycemic products with erythritol!
Learn more about sugar alcohols from American Diabetes Association
Photo credit: Photodune
Cheers to a Healthy Life!