Is sugar alcohol bad for you
Sugar Alcohols: Good Or Bad?
Sugar alcohols have been popular alternatives to sugar for decades.
They look and taste like sugar, but have fewer calories and fewer health effects.
In fact, many studies show that sugar alcohols can improve health.
This article examines sugar alcohols and their health effects.
Sugar alcohols are a category of sugary carbohydrates.
Since sugar alcohols are partially resistant to digestion, they act as dietary fiber. It's also a type of FODMAP that can cause upset stomach and bloating in some people.
As the name suggests, they look like hybrids of sugar and alcohol molecules.
Despite the “alcohol” part of the name, they don't contain ethanol, the compound that gets you drunk. Sugar alcohols are safe for people who abuse alcohol.
Some sugar alcohols are naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
Most, however, are made from other sugars, such as the glucose in corn starch.
Because sugar alcohols have a similar chemical structure to sugar, they activate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue.
In contrast to artificial and low-calorie sweeteners, sugar alcohols contain calories, slightly less than raw sugar.
Summary Sugar alcohols are a category of sugars that occur naturally or are processed from other sugars. They are widely used as sweeteners.
Common types of sugar alcohols
Various types of sugar alcohols are commonly used as sweeteners.
They differ in taste, calorie content, and health effects.
Xylitol is the most widely used and studied sugar alcohol.
It's a common ingredient in sugar-free chewing gum, mints, and oral care products like toothpaste.
It's about as sweet as regular sugar, but has 40% fewer calories. Xylitol not only causes digestive discomfort when ingested in large quantities, it is also well tolerated (1).
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol that has an excellent taste.
Made by fermenting glucose in corn starch, it contains 70% of the sweetness of sugar but 5% of the calories.
Along with the low-calorie sweetener stevia, erythritol is the main component of the popular Truvia sweetener blend.
Erythritol does not have the same digestive side effects as most other sugar alcohols because it does not reach the colon in large quantities.
Instead, most of it is absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted unchanged in the urine (2).
Sorbitol has a soft mouth and a cold taste.
It's 60% sweet like sugar with around 60% of the calories. In addition, it's a common ingredient in sugar-free foods and beverages, including spreads and soft candy.
It has very little effect on blood sugar and insulin, but it can cause indigestion (3).
Maltitol is made from maltose sugar and has a taste and mouthfeel very similar to that of ordinary sugar.
It's 90% sweet like sugar with almost half the calories. While products containing maltitol claim to be "sugar-free", your body absorbs some of this alcohol, causing blood sugar spikes (4).
If you have diabetes, be wary of low-carb products sweetened with maltitol and be sure to monitor your blood sugar closely.
Other sugar alcohols
Other sugar alcohols commonly found in certain food products include mannitol, isomalt, lactitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.
Summary The modern diet contains many sugar alcohols. These include xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, maltitol and many others.
Glycemic index and influence of blood sugar
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar.
Consumption of foods high in GI is linked to obesity and many metabolic problems (5, 6).
The following graph compares the GI of several sugar alcohols with sucrose - pure table sugar or white sugar - and the artificial sweetener sucralose (7).
As you can see, most sugar alcohols have negligible effects on blood sugar. In the case of erythritol and mannitol, the glycemic index is zero.
The only exception is maltitol, which has a glycemic index of 36. However, it remains very low compared to sugar and refined carbohydrates.
For people with metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, or diabetes, sugar alcohols can be considered excellent alternatives to sugar with the possible exception of maltitol.
Summary With the exception of maltitol, most sugar alcohols have only a minor effect on blood sugar and insulin levels.
Sugar alcohols can improve dental health
Tooth decay is a well-documented side effect of excessive sugar consumption.
Sugar feeds certain bacteria in the mouth that multiply and secrete acids that wear away the protective enamel.
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol, on the other hand, protect against tooth decay (8).
This is one of the main reasons they are so popular in many chewing gums and toothpastes.
Xylitol is known for its beneficial effects on dental health and has been extensively studied (9, 10).
In fact, the bad bacteria in your mouth feed on xylitol but cannot metabolize it, which eventually disrupts their metabolism and inhibits their growth (11).
Erythritol has not been studied as extensively as xylitol. However, a three-year study of 485 high school students found that it protects the tooth cavities better than xylitol and sorbitol (12). .
Summary Xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol improve dental health. Xylitol has been the best studied, but there is evidence that erythritol is the most effective.
Sugar alcohols offer a number of other potential benefits:
- prebiotic: Sugar alcohols can feed beneficial bacteria in the gut that, like fiber, have prebiotic effects (13, 14, 15).
- Bone health: Numerous studies in rats indicate that xylitol can increase bone volume and mineral content, which should protect against osteoporosis (16, 17).
- Skin health: Collagen is the most important structural protein in your skin and connective tissue. Studies in rats have shown that xylitol can increase collagen production (18, 19).
Summary Sugar alcohols can feed beneficial bacteria in your intestines, and animal testing has been shown to have beneficial effects on bones and skin.
The main problem with sugar alcohols is that they can cause digestive problems, especially when consumed in large quantities.
Your body cannot digest most of them. They therefore migrate to the large intestine, where they are metabolized by intestinal bacteria.
If you consume a lot of sugar alcohol in a short period of time, you may experience gas and diarrhea.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome or sensitivity to FODMAP, avoid sugar alcohols.
Sorbitol and maltitol appear to be the main culprits, while erythritol and xylitol cause the fewest symptoms (20).
Summary When consumed in large quantities, most sugar alcohols cause significant digestive problems. The effects depend on the person and the type of sugar alcohol.
Xylitol is toxic to dogs
Xylitol is well tolerated by humans, but it is very toxic to dogs.
When dogs eat xylitol, their bodies take it as sugar and produce large amounts of insulin.
When the insulin rises, the dog's cells begin to extract sugar from the blood.
This can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and be fatal (21).
If you have a dog, keep xylitol out of reach or avoid buying it.
This reaction seems unique to dogs. Xylitol - not other sugar alcohols - seems to be the only culprit.
Summary Xylitol is toxic to dogs. If you have a dog, make sure that xylitol is out of reach.
Which alcohol is healthier?
Among all the sugar alcohols, erythritol seems to be one of the best options.
It has almost no calories, no impact on blood sugar, and causes far fewer digestive problems than others.
It's also good for your teeth and won't harm your dog.
Plus, it's delicious - it's basically sugar without the calories.
Summary Erythritol is generally considered to be one of the healthiest sugar alcohols. It contains no calories, does not increase blood sugar, and causes fewer indigestion than other sugar alcohols.
Sugar alcohols are popular low-calorie sweeteners. They are not artificial sweeteners.
They are partially digestible - although some sugar alcohols like maltitol can cause a slight increase in blood sugar.
Although they are well tolerated, high amounts of certain sugar alcohols like sorbitol can cause gas and diarrhea.
Erythritol appears to have the fewest side effects and can be a good choice if you are intolerant to FODMAP.
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