Sugar Alcohols


As people are wising up to the dangers of artificial sweeteners and refined sugar, sugar alcohols are becoming a common alternative.  Why?  Sugar alcohols do not raise blood sugar as sharply as table sugar because they require little or no insulin for metabolism.  Other benefits include:

  • They contain fewer calories than sugar: 0.2 – 3 calories per gram vs. 4 calories per gram
  • They have a sweet flavor that doesn’t have an aftertaste like stevia.  And they mix well with other sweeteners.
  • They don’t lose their sweetness when heated.
  • They are resistant to fermentation by oral bacteria – which is why you’ll find xylitol in a lot of “sugar-free” gums.

Keep in mind that sugar alcohols are neither a “sugar” or an “alcohol,” as their name alludes.  However, that doesn’t mean they are without their perils.  Even with all the benefits, I personally choose to steer away from them as much a possible.  It‘s hard to forget witnessing a woman doubled over in abdominal pain after watching her eat ~5 protein bars throughout the day; protein bars that were made with alcohol sugars.  So, why may you not want to choose alcohol sugars?

  • They are a processed sweetener made in a lab.
  • For some they cause gas, bloating, upset stomachs, diarrhea, and/or other digestion problems.
  • They are especially troublesome if you have a preexisting digestion condition.

Whether or not you choose to incorporate sugar alcohols into your diet, be mindful of how much you consume due to their affect on the bowels and the cumulative calorie effect.  They are pretty easy to recognize, as most of them end in “-itol”:

  • erythritol
  • hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
  • isomalt
  • lactitol
  • maltitol
  • mannitol
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol

Less well-known sugar alcohols include:

  • galactitol
  • inositol
  • ribitol
  • dithioerythritol
  • dithiothreitol
  • glycerol

As with any sweetener (or food for that matter) it is important to determine their role in your life based on how they affect your appetite, state-of-mind, digestion and any other health markers.

What have your experiences been with sugar alcohols? Have they helped or hindered your path to eating less sugar?  Please share!

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