Sugar Alcohols–To use or not to use…

sugar-alcoholsDespite the name, sugar alcohols are neither sugar nor alcohol. Sugar alcohols are found in very low levels in some raw fruits and vegetables, and do not cause problems in this natural state. However, when they are highly processed commercially, sugar alcohols become different from the ones found in nature. When these sugars are broken down in the body, they act very similar to how regular table sugar reacts in our bodies.

Although not very common in home cooking and baking, these sugars are very popular in processed foods, especially “sugar free” products such as hard candies, gum, ice cream, soft drinks, etc.

On the positive side… 

Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories (1.5-3 calories/gram) than regular sugar. This is because they are converted to glucose more slowly, require little or no insulin to be metabolized and don’t cause sudden increases in blood sugar. This makes this sweetener very popular for diabetic diets.

The popular sugar Xylitol, contains zero net effective carbs and does not cause tooth decay. Therefore you’ll find this sweetener in sugar free products such as Trident Gum, Flintstone vitamins and Ice Chips.

On the negative side…

One of the reason for the lower calorie count is because they are not completely absorbed into your body. The remainder is fermented by bacteria in the colon. This is why so many complain of bloating, abdominal gas and diarrhea. Every body is different, so it is really important if you are consuming a product with sugar alcohols to use a small amount and you see how your body responds. Some are not affected, while others complain of stomach pains and diarrhea. There have also been reports of increased anxiety and problems falling asleep or restless sleep so you might consider avoiding these products if you struggle with anxiety.

Some sugar alcohols can also be converted to fat, which may contribute to an increase in blood triglyceride levels as well as weight gain.

There is often the misconception that sugar free products containing sugar alcohols are great for weight loss. Be very careful – Some of these products may still contain significant amounts of carbohydrates so make sure you check the nutritional facts and consume in moderation. (Xylitol contains zero net effective carbs). Do your research and make a decision based on your findings.

Sugar Alcohol IngredientBecome a detective…

Become familiar with these common sugar alcohols: mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). Watch for them, especially on “sugar free” products.

In the example shown here you will notice this sugar-free product not only uses artificial sweeteners, but also listed in the ingredients are sugar alcohols. Also note the warning on the ingredient panel.

If you choose to consume sugar alcohols make sure and start slow to check how your digestive track can handle the product. As always, moderation is the key to a healthy body and weight loss plan.

Up next in “Sweet Week”:
Marketplace Sweeteners – Common sweeteners commonly found on the market.
Our Favorites – Choose your sweetener wisely!
How to Pick a Sweetener for you, your family and your healthy lifestyle

Don’t miss yesterday’s “Sweet Week” post: 
Sweeteners to Avoid