Sugar alcohols occur naturally in some fruits and vegetable and are also a man-made ingredient commonly used as a substitute for sugar in foods. Despite their name, they do not contain ethanol, the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. Their chemical structure looks similar to the chemical structure of both sugar and alcohol, hence the name.
Sugar alcohols are most often used in products labeled as sugar-free like gum, jelly spreads, beverages, candy, and toothpaste. If you read the nutrition labels, xylitol (also called wood or birch sugar), erythritol, sorbitol, or maltitol are the most often used sugar alcohols. Notice that they all end in the letters “itol.”
Advantages: Sugar alcohols contain fewer calories than sugar and are only partially digested so they have less of an effect on blood sugars. That is why they are often recommended for diabetics. Sugar alcohols can help prevent tooth decay and exert benefits on the gut. In addition, sugar alcohols in food also add texture, moisture, and prevent browning when heated.
Disadvantages: If consumed in large amounts, sugar alcohols may contribute to gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Just like sugar alcohols differ in their calories and taste, they also differ in how much GI distress they cause. Warning: Xylitol is poisonous to dogs.
Bottom Line: Sugar alcohols can be used sparingly with the recognition that they are not calorie free and are often in foods that have little nutritional value.
www.environmentalnutrition.com, Feb. 2019.