What Are Sugar Alcohols?
If you have diabetes, you’re probably a pro at reading food labels. You know to pay attention to total carbs and added sugars. But what about sugar alcohols?
So what are sugar alcohols, anyway? How do they affect blood sugar? Here’s a closer look at sugar alcohols — the most common ones, how they impact blood sugar and some potential side effects to getting too much in your diet.
What Exactly Are Sugar Alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates, sweeteners with about half the calories of regular sugar. And despite their name, sugar alcohols aren’t alcoholic.
Sugar alcohols occur naturally in certain fruits and veggies. However, most of the sugar alcohols you find in foods today are processed from other sugars.
Common Sugar Alcohols
A variety of different sugar alcohols get used as sweeteners today. They all differ just a bit in calorie content and taste. Common sugar alcohols include:
⦁ Xylitol – The most commonly used type of sugar alcohol, xylitol is often used in sugar-free gum, toothpaste and sugar-free mints.
⦁ Sorbitol – A sugar alcohol with a cool, smooth taste, sorbitol can be found in sugar-free drinks and foods like soft candies or jellies.
⦁ Erythritol – Known for its excellent taste, erythritol is used along with stevia to create the popular sweetener blend called Truvia.
⦁ Maltitol – A sugar alcohol that tastes very close to real sugar and has a similar feeling in your mouth.
Sugar Alcohols and Diabetes
If you have diabetes, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can have an unlimited amount of sugar alcohols. When it comes to measuring blood glucose levels, having too many sugar alcohols in your system can cause inaccurate results.
They’re still carbs — which means they can raise your blood sugar. Look at nutrition labels and you’ll see that “sugar-free” foods containing sugar alcohol may still have plenty of calories.
Sugar alcohols offer some specific benefits over regular sugar:
⦁ Fewer Calories – Sugar has around 4 calories per gram, but sugar alcohols usually have about 2 calories per gram while tasting nearly as sweet.1
⦁ No Sudden Blood Sugar Spikes – Consuming sugar alcohols instead of sugar can make it easier to manage blood sugar. That’s because sugar alcohols don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar like sugar does.2
⦁ Fewer Carbohydrates – Sugar alcohols are okay, even if you’re following a low-carb diet. While they have carbs, they have fewer carbs than regular sugar.
Sugar Alcohols and Digestive Issues
The body can’t fully digest sugar alcohols. That’s why they don’t cause major spikes in blood sugars. However, this may also result in some unpleasant side effects after you eat them.
Some people notice that they experience bloating, excessive gas and diarrhea after eating sugar alcohols.3 This seems to be more common with xylitol. Research shows that the sugar alcohol erythritol is less likely to cause stomach issues.
While sugar alcohols have benefits for people with diabetes, it’s important to consume them in moderation. As long as you stick with a moderate intake, you can use them to help lower sugar intake as part of a healthy diet.