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Sugar alcohols are a type of sweetener used in foods labelled "sugar-free." You'll find them in chewing gum, sugar-free candies, cookies, soft drinks, and other foods. Sugar alcohols have about one-half to one-third fewer calories than sugar.
For example, if a food label doesn't list sugar as an ingredient, but it has 20 grams of sugar alcohol, that is equal to the calories in about 10 grams of sugar. If you are counting carbohydrate and there are more than 5 grams of sugar alcohol in the food, you can subtract half the grams of sugar alcohol from the total grams of carbohydrate. For example, if the food has 30 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of sugar alcohol, you can count that food as 26 grams of carbohydrate
Sugar alcohols occur naturally in plant foods in small amounts, such as berries and fruits. Common names for sugar alcohols are erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH).
Sugar alcohols are used to sweeten diet foods. They are also used in chewing gums, toothpaste, and mouthwash. People who have diabetes eat foods made with sugar alcohols, because sugar alcohols turn to glucose more slowly and don't cause sudden increases in blood sugar.
Sugar alcohols used in chewing gum do not cause tooth decay.
No. Even though the food is "sugar-free," it still has carbohydrate and calories.
If you have diabetes, read food labels closely to find out the amount of carbohydrate in each serving of food containing sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols don't cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, but they do have some effect on it. Sugar substitutes, on the other hand, have very few calories and have no effect on blood sugar.
If you eat too much of them, sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea, bloating, and weight gain.
Current as of: December 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Donald Sproule MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator & Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
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