Sugar Alcohols: What Are They and Are They Bad For You?

Sugar alcohols are sweet organic chemical compounds that are commonly used as sugar substitutes. Because they do not affect blood sugar in the same way that normal sugar does, they may be beneficial for people looking to control their blood sugar levels or intake.

Products that include them are often marketed as “low carb” or “sugar-free.”

Here’s what you need to know about sugar alcohols and whether these sugar substitutes are right for you.

What is sugar alcohol?

Erythritol |  sugar alcohols

“Sugar alcohols are sugar substitutes that are used as sweeteners in a variety of products, such as candy and chewing gum,” says Natalia AllenMS, RD, professor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University.

Technically, they are part of a group of short-chain carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and fermentable polyols, also known as FODMAPs. (Sugar alcohols are part of the “P”: polyols).

To spot them on a nutrition label, look at the end of each ingredient. If you see an “itol” at the end, it means it is a sugar alcohol, which is a bit of a misnomer since they are neither sugar nor alcohol. However, they are chemically processed artificial sweeteners.

Low-calorie sweeteners can be found in “sugar-free” versions of foods such as candy, gum, cookies, puddings, diet sodas, and other sweets.

Sugar alcohols can also be used in food products to add texture and moisture (and to prevent browning during cooking).

Types of sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols include:

  • Erythritol (in sweeteners like Truvia)
  • isomaltose
  • lactitol
  • maltitol
  • mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

What is the difference between sugar and sugar alcohols?

Man puts sugar in coffee |  sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols “provide fewer calories than regular sugar and the metabolism is a little different,” Allen explains. While sugar is usually completely absorbed in the small intestine, sugar alcohols are incompletely absorbed there.

Because the body doesn’t absorb sugar alcohols the same way it metabolizes sugar, Allen says, they provide fewer calories than regular sugar.

A particular sugar alcohol, erythritolIt does not contain calories because it is excreted in the urine and does not affect blood glucose and insulin levels.

For example, a teaspoon granulated sugar It has 16 calories. The same quantity of xylitol powder contains about half the amount of calories and one teaspoon of Truvia (erythritol) contains zero calories.

Are sugar alcohols bad?

“It’s certainly okay to eat sugar alcohols, but don’t overdo it,” says Allen.

They can sometimes cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea because they are not fully digested in the intestine or completely absorbed by the body. This is what makes them lower in calories than sugar, but it can also cause some side effects.

And for people with irritable bowel syndrome, FODMAPs have generally been associated with long-term gastrointestinal symptoms.

Research suggests that side effects are more likely when larger amounts are consumed.

Can you eat sugar alcohols on a sugar-free diet?

It depends on the plan. Some sugar-free diets recommend eliminating them completely.

But people looking to consume less sugar and maintain better blood sugar control can benefit from sugar alcohols.

The bottom line is that sugar alcohols are not sugar “freebies.” Even so, they should be consumed in moderation and it is important to consider possible gastrointestinal side effects.

If you are trying to start a sugar-free lifestyle, it may be best to eliminate foods sweetened with sugar alcohol.

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