Sugar alcohols can satisfy a sweet tooth safely

Expect the unexpected, when you eat these food sweeteners. Neither sugar, nor alcohol, 'sugar alcohols' are a hydrogenated form of carbohydrate with a chemical composition that resembles both namesakes. A common alternative to sucrose, sugar alcohols are a popular sweetener, because they are lower in calories than sugar, do not lead to tooth decay like sugar, and promote a lower glycemic response than sugar.

Seven types of sugar alcohols

While some sugar alcohols also occur naturally in fruit, these seven are among the most common food additives:

  1. Erythritol
  2. Isomalt
  3. Lactitol
  4. Maltitol
  5. Mannitol
  6. Sorbitol
  7. Xylitol

Advantages of sugar alcohols

Most sugar alcohols are derived from fruits and berries, although they must be chemically processed before being added to foods. Most sugar alcohols taste less sweet than table sugar. In general, sugar alcohols convert into glucose much more slowly than sucrose or refined fructoses, such as those made with corn syrup. The result is a much safer, slower rise in blood glucose after consumption.

Another advantage sugar alcohols have for people with type 2 diabetes is lower calorie counts than sucrose. While sucrose contains about 4 calories per gram, sugar alcohols traditionally contain between 1.5 and three calories per gram. Remember that sugar alcohols are not calorie-free, like artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin and sucralose. When counting carbohydrates, estimate half of the sugar alcohol content as carbs.

Sugar alcohol disadvantages

There are a few downsides to sugar alcohol worth considering: Sugar alcohols can cause a laxative effect, flatulance and bloating. Gastric side effects are particularly common in children. Some foods containing sugar alcohols are highly processed and contain more fat or trans fats than less refined foods. Finally, if eaten in excess, they can cause weight gain.

Sugar alcohols represent a sensible way to indulge a sweet tooth. Before you eat sweet, try to remember the words of Mark Twain, "All things in moderation, including moderation."

About Leah DiPlacido

Leah DiPlacido, Ph.D. is a biomedical writer/editor. She received her doctorate degree in Immunology at Yale University, and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Connecticut. She has authored research articles in publications such as "Arthritis and Rheumatism" and "Journal of Immunology." Leah now writes about topics in health for doctors, scientists, and the general public.

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