Sugar Alcohol and Weight Loss
With an obesity epidemic in America that is reaching epic proportions, millions of people are searching for ways to slim down and lead healthier lifestyles. With thousands of diet products on the market, it’s easy to see why many people are confused as to what is really inside the foods they put into their bodies. The confusion with sugar alcohols is no different.
Sugar alcohol is the generic name for a variety of sweeteners derived from grains, mainly corn. Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, are actually neither sugar nor alcohol but contain traits of both. Sugar alcohols have a sweet taste and usually come in liquid form. They are added to foods instead of sugar to reduce calories or minimize blood-sugar spikes in diabetics and low-carbohydrate dieters.
Commonly used sugar alcohols include maltitol, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, lactitol, erythritol and isomalt. Caloric values range from one to three calories per gram. Because sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed by the intestinal tract, they contain fewer calories than regular sugar.
Where to Find
Sugar alcohols are found in a variety of “light,” diabetic-friendly, sugar-free or processed low-carbohydrate foods. Candies, baked goods, ice cream, yogurt, snack bars, cereals and chewing gum often contain sugar alcohol. Toothpaste is another place you might unexpectedly find sugar alcohol, which does not promote tooth decay as sugar does.
Whole foods generally do not contain sugar alcohols. Vegetables, fruits, meats, unprocessed dairy products and whole grains are void of sugar alcohols, because they are either naturally sweetened or are savory. Sugar alcohols are made during the mechanical processing of grains, so it is rare to find them in a natural food source.
Since sugar alcohols are lower in calories than regular sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, these sweeteners lower the overall calorie content of food items. In addition, sugar alcohol minimizes the glycemic response, or rise in blood sugar, that is usually seen after consuming sweets or starchy carbohydrates. Because of this, sugar alcohols are often found in food products for diabetics.
The fact that sugar alcohols do not cause a rise in blood sugar means that they may be useful in avoiding blood-sugar crashes, when consumed in moderation. These crashes, which often occur a few hours after consuming a high-carbohydrate food such as candy or soda, can lead to hunger and cravings. By keeping blood-sugar levels stable, sugar alcohols may help reduce cravings later in the day.
Sugar alcohols may cause gastrointestinal discomfort when consumed in excess. Gas, upset stomach, diarrhea, bloating and intestinal noises may be experienced by those whose bodies are not accustomed to the consumption of sugar alcohols.
Minimize these side effects by carefully and only moderately consuming sugar alcohols. Over time, your body may become used to the products and your discomfort may lessen. You may also have a more hastened response with some forms of sugar alcohol as compared to others. Note the type of sugar alcohol before you consume it, so you can understand how your body reacts to it, and use that information in the future to prevent discomfort.
It is important to note that not all sugar substitutes are considered sugar alcohols. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are not sugar alcohols and do not behave in the same way. Many food products combine these artificial sweeteners with sugar alcohols. Some products even mix sugar with sugar alcohols to somewhat lower caloric content.
Read labels to be aware of sweeteners used in your foods, as well as the potential side effects. Products that contain sugar alcohols usually carry a warning that states excess consumption may cause gas or bloating. If you see this warning, you can feel confident you are consuming a product that contains sugar alcohol.