If you eat protein bars, or low sugar foods, you’ve probably seen sugar alcohol listed among the ingredients in many popular brands.
Sugar alcohols are found most commonly in food products labeled “sugar-free,” including hard candies, cookies, chewing gums, and soda, but have recently become very popular in “health foods”.
Do you really know what you’re consuming? Is sugar alcohol bad for you? The short answer to the latter question is “no”, sugar alcohol is not bad for you, but it is not intrinsically healthy either.
Sugar-free candy, nutrition bars, cookies, cakes and other sweets might be sugar-free, but they do contain sugar substitutes, many of which can cause diarrhea, especially sugar alcohols. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose can also cause diarrhea in some people, but sugar alcohols are more likely to induce diarrhea. When you eat foods containing sugar alcohols, be aware that you might experience sudden, explosive diarrhea if you eat too much.
As food companies try to lower the sugar content of their foods, they’ll try just about anything. In addition to the usual white-flour-to-soy-flour conversion, sugar is often taken out and replaced with a sugar alcohol. The name is a bit misleading as it’s neither a sugar nor an alcohol; rather, its chemical structure is merely similar to sugars and alcohols.
And, food companies generally subtract food alcohols from the “carb count” on the back of the package as they reason that sugar alcohols have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. But, is that really the case? To find out, I searched for the glycemic values for various sugar alcohols. For those not aware, the Glycemic Index is a measure of a food’s effect on blood sugar levels. The scale is set up so that sugar has a value of 100. But, that’s not to say that foods can’t exceed 100 — potatoes can reach into the 150s, for example.
Sugar-free candies clean out your digestive system better than a giant pipe-cleaner. Not to put too fine a point on it, they make you poop. How do these ultra-laxatives work, and why are they still on the market?
Lycasin, Maltitol, and Gummy Bears
Reviewers on Amazon made Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears famous when they gave reviews testifying that the bears went into their body and out the other end at a break-neck run, taking everything else in their digestive system with them. The unhappy commenters mentioned stomach rumbles, ear-splittingly loud flatulence, and diarrhea. This is not confined to gummy bears. Any food loaded up with a low-calorie sugar called Lycasin will do the same.
ALL ABOUT SUGAR ALCOHOLS (MALTITOL, SORBITOL, ISOMALT , etc..)
These sweeteners are neither sugars, nor alcohols, but they are carbohydrates nonetheless. They are sometimes called POLYOLS, to avoid confusion. At the present time, they have not been legally classified for product labelling purposes, as are sugars, starch and fiber. So, some manufacturers are choosing to omit them from the total carb count in the nutrient data panel of the label (they MUST however declare the amount of sugar alcohol in the ingredient list). Because they aren’t actually SUGAR, products that contain them may use the term “sugar free” on the label. Some manufacturers and distributors (esp. in Canada and Europe) are choosing to declare the full carbs in the nutrient data panel, and some diabetes associations and consumer groups are pressuring for gov’t legislation to make this a legal requirement.
Sugar alcohols are the sugars in alcohol, right? Wrong actually, the term “sugar alcohol” can be quite misleading as they are neither a sugar nor an alcohol. Confused yet? Allow me to explain then. Sugar alcohols are in most “sugar free” and “diet” products and once you know what to look for you will be amazed at just how many products contain some form of them. They are sweet to the tongue and are poorly digested by the body, making them what manufacturers believe to be the perfect type of sweetener. Unfortunately for some unlucky people these sugar alcohols can cause all sorts of bodily upsets.
What Are Sugar Alcohols
A sugar alcohol is also know as a polyol and can be classified as a carbohydrate. Sugar alcohols naturally occur in many fruits and vegetables, but are most widely consumed in sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. The sweetness of sugar alcohols varies from 25% to 100% as sweet as table sugar (sucrose). The chemical structure of sugar alcohols is a hybrid between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule, hence the name, but they are neither one nor the other. Although included in most sugar free products, sugar alcohols do have a caloric value. This value is generally half that of sugar and is very low on the glycemic index, which is great for controlling blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols also don’t ferment in the mouth when coming into contact with oral bacteria, which is another plus for dealing with oral health.
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