What’s Up With Sugar Alcohols?
There are some of us who don’t have a sweet tooth, myself included. Maybe I’m just weird. Yet most people around the world do have a sweet tooth and crave desserts and delicious treats. That being said, we are in an age where people are going to great lengths and expense to be their healthiest. Thus we have companies investing in science to capitalize on that behavior. We have free range eggs, “non-gm” everything, and delicious $7 kombucha. It is easy to get caught up in all this healthiness, once again myself included. However, there is one of these marketing ploys that we should take a second look at... sugar alcohols.
What are Sugar Alcohols?
Some sugar alcohols accrue naturally in fruits, but the majority are processed and put into a lot of processed food. Sugar alcohols are made when corn is boiled and mashed up into glucose, then yeasts are added to glucose, the yeasts then eats away (fermentation) some of the glucose. This process makes the molecules smaller, what remains is a sugar alcohol. Different types of yeasts are used to make different types of sugar alcohols. During this process alcohol is made, when a hydrogen and oxygen atom pair up and are then bound to a carbon atom.
The name sugar alcohol is an oxymoron because sugar alcohols are neither sugar nor alcoholic. So, it will not get you intoxicated at all. Sugar alcohols are actually polyols, a hybrid of sugar and alcohol. They look exactly like sugar thou. They are also rated low on the glycemic index, they have zero or a small number of calories and have a low number of carbohydrates.
Having a low rating on the glycemic index means that it’s a food that causes a slower rise in blood-sugar. Diets that utilize low glycemic index foods are proven to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and aid those who suffer from diabetes. These diets also are connected with food that contains good cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart attacks. All of this sounds pretty good. A low carb, low-calorie substitute for sugar.
There are several different kinds of sugar alcohols that are being used today, some popular ones for example; Xylitol, Erythritol, Sorbitol, and Maltitol.
Of all these examples, Xylitol is the most common. It is used in most toothpaste and sugar-free gum. However it is toxic to dogs, so you dog lovers don’t let them play with your toothpaste tubes.
Erythritol is said to have a great taste. It is mixed with natural sweetener, stevia to make low-calorie sugar substitutes.
Sorbitol is supposed to have a cool refreshing taste, which is why it is used in several sugar-free candy, jelly spreads, and drinks.
Maltitol is said to be very similar to real sugar. It has half the calories as sugar and is just as sweet. However, foods that contain Maltitol claim to be “sugar-free” and that is not entirely true.
Sorbitol, Erythritol, and Xylitol are all good for you teeth and have been proven to help repair tooth enamel. All four examples have a low number of calories and carbs per serving.
Is All of This Too Good to be True?
In a way, yes this is all too good to be true. While sugar alcohols have fewer negative health risk than real sugar, the human body does not absorb all the molecules of sugar alcohols, therefore they sit and rot within the intestines. Sugar alcohols are known to cause digestive issues, like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
People with IBS should avoid sugar alcohols entirely. Another drawback to sugar alcohols is the fact that food containing them are marketed as “sugar-free” or “low calorie” options. Which, as previously stated is not entirely true. People will see those options and drift towards them, so check the back label and ignore the flashy marketing labels. Because overindulging in a “healthier” option is still not healthy. Do not think that you can get away with eating twice the amount of a food that is “sugar-free” or “low Cal”, because you are probably better off eating a small amount of the good stuff.
After the research and writing this article, I know I’m going to make an effort to avoid sugar alcohols, but then again, I am a weirdo who isn’t a big fan of sweet foods. So for those of you who are, be careful with sugar alcohols.