Expert Q&A

Sugar Alcohols: What Are They?

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols, or polyols, include:

  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Erythritol
  • Hydrolysates
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol.

Even though they are called sugar alcohols, they do not contain alcohol. They are mostly used in sugar-free candies, chewing gum, and desserts. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugars and starches, at approximately 2 calories per gram instead of 4. As a result, they cause blood glucose levels to rise much less than carbohydrates.

Diabetics should count the carbohydrate content of the sugar alcohols in their meals. Sugar alcohols raise blood sugars by about half as much as regular carbohydrates. To calculate how many carbohydrates count towards your carbohydrate choices for a certain type of meal or snack, divide the grams of sugar alcohols by 2, and then subtract the amount from the total carbohydrates.

For example:

  • Serving size: 1 bar

  • Total carbohydrate: 15 grams
  • Find the sugar alcohol: 6 grams and divide this by 2 (6g divided by 2 = 3g)
  • 1 bar counts as 12 grams carbohydrate or 1 carb choice (15g - 3g = 12g)

When indulging in a snack made with sugar alcohols, make sure to plan for the carbohydrates and calories. Even though these foods can be a lot less damaging to your blood sugar levels and weight loss regime than regular sweets, too many sugar alcohols can still raise blood sugars. In addition, they can cause gas and diarrhea, and some people have reported sensitivities to these substances.

Megan Porter, RD/LD
Contributing Expert

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