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?
What are sugar alcohols? Will they affect your 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 sugar alcohols in your diet.
What Exactly are Sugar Alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are a type of sweet carbohydrate. They’re a hybrid of sugar and alcohol molecules. But don’t worry, they won’t make you drunk and they’re safe for anyone. Some types of sugar alcohols actually occur naturally in veggies and fruits.
However, most of the sugar alcohols you find in foods today are processed from other sugars. Since they have a chemical structure close to that of sugar, they taste sweet to your tongue. And unlike low-calorie or artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols do have calories, although far fewer than sugar.
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 and most researched type of sugar alcohol is xylitol. It’s often used in sugar-free gum, toothpaste, and sugar-free mints. While it tastes nearly as sweet as sugar, it has fewer calories.
- Sorbitol – Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that offers a cool, smooth taste. It’s often used in sugar-free drinks and foods, especially soft candies and jellies.
- Erythritol – Known for its excellent taste, erythritol is used along with stevia to create the popular sweetener blend called Truvia.
- Maltitol – Maltitol 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. They’re still a type of carbohydrate, 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 and carbs.
There are some specific benefits of sugar alcohols over sugar, especially for people who have diabetes. Those benefits include:
- Fewer Calories – Sugar has around 4 calories per gram, but sugar alcohols usually have just over 2 calories per gram while tasting nearly as sweet.
- No Sudden Blood Sugar Spikes – Consuming sugar alcohols instead of sugar can make it easier to manage blood sugar. Sugar alcohols don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar like sugar does. They usually cause very little to no rises in your blood sugar levels.
- Fewer Carbohydrates – Sugar alcohols are okay, even if you’re following a low-carb diet. While they do still have carbs, they have fewer carbs than regular sugar forms do.
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. This seems to be more prevalent among those who eat xylitol. Research shows that the sugar alcohol erythritol is less likely to cause stomach issues.
While sugar alcohols have benefits for persons with diabetes, it’s important to consume them in moderation. As long as you stick with a moderate intake, they can be used to help lower sugar intake as part of a healthy diet.
Sources and References
The mySugr website does not provide medical or legal advice. mySugr blog articles are not scientific articles, but intended for informational purposes only.
Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.