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Sugar Alcohols


Sugar alcohols have a chemical structure which resembles sugar and alcohol; but they do not contain alcohol (ethanol). By being similar to sugar, they are able to provide a sweet flavour while providing lower calories than sugar since they are not digested as efficiently or quickly as table sugar. They are naturally found in various fruits and vegetables. 

Common sugar alcohols include erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, isomalt, glycerol and lactitol.  Unlike most other sugar free sweeteners, sugar alcohols are generally less sweet than table sugar. Therefore more of it is needed to match the sweetness of sugar. 

Sugar alcohols are used since they possess some properties like sugar which help in food texture, they can be replaced 1:1 with sugar and they are a good bulking agent with other high intensity sweeteners. 

Products with sugar alcohols require a warning on the package for having a laxative effect. This is due to causing digestive issues such as excess gas, bloating, watery stool and diarrhea. Although the occurrence of digestive issues varies from person to person, consuming large quantities will likely cause digestive issues. 

The laxative effect arises from sugar alcohols not being fully digested in the body and lingering in the intestines; where they are fermented and can result in the above mentioned digestive issues.

Therefore moderation is very important when consuming products with sugar alcohols. since excess consumption is likely to cause digestion issues. 

Maltitol, mannitol and sorbitol are notorious for being natural laxatives and causing digestive issues for many people.

Before considering introducing a new sugar alcohol to your diet, there may need to be some extra research done and potentially testing your body's tolerance to the sweetener.


There is no ADI set by food authorities for sugar alcohols. However they should be consumed in moderation (more than other sugar free sweeteners since they are present in much larger quantities in food products.) Excess consumption will very likely lead to digestive issues.

Erythritol and xylitol are the popular choices since they are the most well tolerated sugar alcohols by most people. Most other sugar alcohols such as maltitol, mannitol and sorbitol are common causes for digestive issues for many people.




Xylitol is commonly extracted from birch tree bark and corn cob waste. It provides 40% less calories than table sugar but it does not spike blood sugar or insulin. It has a GI of 7, much lower than table sugar which has a GI of 60.

Xylitol is about 95% as sweet as sugar. It is used in many sugar free products as it can provide similar texture effects and has very similar taste to sugar (has a slight cooling taste.)

It is generally well tolerated by most people, with daily maximum intake of up to 30g for the average person (varies from person to person based on tolerance for xylitol). Higher intakes increase the likelihood of digestive issues mentioned previously.  

It has been suggested it can actually be beneficial for dental health by reducing plaque buildup, since plaque cannot process xylitol (in addition to replacing sugar, which is damaging to our teeth.) In the US, products containing xylitol are actually allowed to advise they reduce the risk of cavities.


Unlike table sugar, xylitol does not caramelise at high temperature and can leave a grainy texture as a sugar substitute.


One thing to note: xylitol is very toxic for dogs, even in small quantities. 


Erythritol is commonly produced from starch in corn.

Similar to xylitol, erythritol is well tolerated by many people, with a maximum daily intake of up to 50g for the average person (varies from person to person based on tolerance for erythritol.)  It contains almost zero calories (0.2 calories per gram) and has been gaining increasing popularity.

Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar, so typically more is needed to substitute sugar. It also has a cooling effect on taste, which some people may notice is stronger than other sweeteners.

Unlike table sugar, erythritol does not caramelise at high temperature and can leave a grainy texture as a sugar substitute.


Maltitol has about 50% calories of table sugar and a lower GI of 35.  

It is about 90% as sweet as sugar. 

It is used in many sugar free products, particularly chocolate products. This is because unlike xylitol and erythritol, maltitol can caramelise and has properties that are more similar to table sugar.

However maltitol is the most notorious sugar alcohol for causing digestive issues.

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