Nutrition Articles

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

What You Need to Know

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Why Use Sugar Alcohols?
You may wonder why manufacturers would put sugar alcohols in foods and other products, or why people might seek them out. Here are a few reasons why consumers choose these products:
  • Fewer calories. Sugar alcohols contain fewer calories (0.2 to 3 calories per gram) than sugar (4 calories per gram), making them a diet-friendly choice for people who want to limit their caloric intake, but still enjoy sweet foods.
  • Safe for diabetics. Sugar alcohols are absorbed more slowly (and incompletely) by the body. Unlike regular sugar, they require little or no insulin for metabolism. *People with diabetes should consult their physician, dietitian or other health professional about incorporating sugar alcohols into their daily meal plans.
  • Better dental health. Sugar alcohols do not promote tooth decay since they are not metabolized by the bacteria that produce dental cavities.
  • Fewer drug interactions. Sugar alcohols do not react with the pharmacologic ingredients in medicines as much as sugar sometimes can.
  • Individual tastes. The different types of sugar alcohols vary in sweetness, from being about half as sweet to equally sweet as sugar.
In addition to consumer desires, sugar alcohols appeal to manufacturers too. Here's why:
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • ENDLESSUMMER21
    I a diabetic have been for about 14 years and became insulin dependent about 3 years ago. These alcohol sugars that are spoken of and touted as being "generally safe for human consumption" explains NOTHING!!! What are they? Where EXACTLY are they derived from.? What chemical processes did they go through to reach their "consumable" state? What chemicals are present in them because they are obviously NOT natural? As an insulin dependent diabetic, I am of course very aware and careful about the foods I eat. I basically follow a modified Paleo-Diet and it really seems to help with maintaining a healthier blood sugar level. I try not to use any artificial anything in my cooking and that includes any pre-packaged foods (which I rarely purchase and when I do, they are very few and far between)and I only use regular table sugar or honey to sweeten whatever the recipe may call for. As a general rule though, I hardly add sugar or honey to anything though. I find other natural methods of adding sweetness (and hopefully a few nutrients as well) by using fruits as garnishments and cooked as glazes, using the fruits' natural juices as the actual glaze itself with chunks of fruits for texture interest, fiber and nutrients. Alcohol sugars...no thank you! Sticking to the natural stuff has made me a healthier me. I'd rather have a very small amount, basically a taste, maybe a tablespoon or two of whatever the treat made with real sugar may be rather than have a lot of the treat made with artificial sweeteners a.k.a. alcohol sugars, and fill my system with chemicals. Think people, think! Don't just eat what is fed to you. Take charge and eat what you KNOW is good. - 7/31/2014 1:55:25 PM
  • STILLSTRUGGLIN
    "Generally Recognized as Safe" means "We Don't Want You to Know". I only use Stevia and was shocked to hear my Diabetes Educator explain that Splenda is worse for you than Sweet N Low!

    - 7/31/2014 10:23:22 AM
  • BUDDYKING1
    I was six when I was diagnosed in 1952. There was saccharin, and something else in a tear-shaped bottle. Time will tell if they had any future effects. What I am looking to communicate is that if it seems too good to be true; it's too good to be true. If these ol products are poisonous to canines they can't be nourishing nor making humans any healthier. It's not an avocados to parrots situation. It's difficult to imagine "A different diet", but that is really the key. Replacing too much sugar with too much sugar replacement is not really an answer. Our bodies treat sugar or sweeteners as a drug and the more we get, the more it wants. Everything is a chemical, whether it occurs naturally or is synthesized. For me, eliminating what I think might be detrimental and only having things around that I deem "healthy" helps me to make better decisions....and to rid myself of the lolly-pop wielding monkey on my back. - 7/31/2014 9:50:31 AM
  • Sugar alcohols are damaging to diabetics. They should never touch them. Sugar alcohols are more of a culprit in causing diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to amputations, than sugar, itself. Anyone can research this online. Additionally, as mentioned, they tend to cause terrible gastric distress; and, even a few sugar-free mints or pieces of gum can kill a full- grown dog, if it contains Xylitol. I won't even have it in my house. Ice Cubes gum is highly concentrated. And, keeping products containing Xylitol or using it as a sweetener, at homes, puts your pets at risk, as they can accidetally get into a baked good, pack of gum, etc., and be poisoned to death with a very small amount of the product. I'd much rather take my chances with Splenda or Stevia than sugar alcohols. - 7/31/2014 4:40:46 AM
  • Sugar alcohols are damaging to diabetics. They should never touch them. Sugar alcohols are more of a culprit in causing diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to amputations, than sugar, itself. Anyone can research this online. Additionally, as mentioned, they tend to cause terrible gastric distress; and, even a few sugar-free mints or pieces of gum can kill a full- grown dog, if it contains Xylitol. I won't even have it in my house. Ice Cubes gum is highly concentrated. And, keeping products containing Xylitol or using it as a sweetener, at homes, puts your pets at risk, as they can accidetally get into a baked good, pack of gum, etc., and be poisoned to death with a very small amount of the product. I'd much rather take my chances with Splenda or Stevia than sugar alcohols. - 7/31/2014 4:32:01 AM
  • LINDAH42
    WARNING--xylitol (don't know about other sugar alcohols) is HIGHLY toxic to dogs. See just one of many articles about this at:http://news.vi
    n.com/VINNews
    .aspx?article
    Id=21365
    I was at the vet with my dog when a woman brought in her dog that had just eaten gum and got the bad news that her dog wasn't going to make it. PLEASE let people know about this risk. - 8/1/2013 12:52:50 PM
  • I would like to know how sugar alcohols are made, what are they made of. Are they totally artificial? I just really hate the idea of more chemicals. - 8/1/2013 10:21:43 AM
  • I was an out of control diabetic... so I'm grateful to find sugar alcohols in my food VS the toxic chemicals of splenda (which I used to use), saccharin, Equal, etc.etc.etc.) (artificial sweeteners).....T
    hanks for this exellent article- which also enlightened me in more ways than one...
    Now I use sugar alcohols, stevia, or xylitol. Have Agave, but haven't tried it yet - 2/27/2013 9:08:47 AM
  • CDAVIDSON31
    When I first started the Paleo way of eating, I needed recipes to guide me. So I googled 'Paleo Recipes', and found this book.

    I was kind of leery at first, not really knowing if I was going to get a really good cookbook, or a collection of recipes with weird ingredients that I would never use. Much to my surprise, I got an excellent cookbook that I use all the time. Such great recipes as Moroccan Chicken, Salmon Fish Cakes, Omelet Muffins, BBQ Grilled Lamb Kebobs, just to name a few that I've tried & loved. Simply put, if you're going to ditch the SAD diet & get back to a more natural way of eating, then the 'Paleo Recipe Book' is a must have!

    check this out:
    http://tinyurl.
    com/paleorec - 10/27/2012 6:09:00 PM
  • Generally recognized as safe? Something else to check, I guess. - 10/27/2012 9:58:14 AM
  • if counting carbs do you deduct the sugar alcohols from the item total carb count?? i have just started the first phase and dont want to mess it up. tyring to stay under 30 a day. bought new bars Atkins endulge Chocolate coconut bars says only 3 net carbs but has totsl carbs on back 19 minus the 9 fiber 1 regular sugar and 8 sugar alcohols...anybod
    y know if they dont count? - 10/26/2012 11:54:34 AM
  • I like xylitol, i use it for baking and a bit in tea in the evening. The "gastric" thing actually works great for me as I usually have the other way problem of not feeling the need to go for #2 for days. Works like a charm :) - 9/18/2012 11:34:24 AM
  • SAILORMITCH
    Be careful with sugar alcohols because gastric distress is a COMMON problem. I can handle them in small doses (usually 10 mg/serving or less.) Much more than that, and my gut feels like it's going to explode! The problem is eating out because very few restaurants list sugar alcohols in their food, or can even tell you if they use them at all. - 8/2/2012 8:30:47 PM
  • In our diabetes class, the dietician said to count sugar alchohols as 1/2 carb but I wasn't really sure what sugar alcohols were so I really appreciated this article! I guess you really have to try them to determine how each one affects you personally. - 8/2/2012 8:40:25 AM
  • Thanks for the info. Bought some protein bars that have 2g sugar, then checked the back and they also had 7g sugar alcohols which accounted for most of the carbs. So basically lower calorie sweetener that doesn't cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Sounds acceptable to me - 7/9/2012 3:02:50 PM

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