What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols have advantages and disadvantages.

Sugar alcohols are one source of sweet carbohydrates. They are a type of sweetener that tastes and looks like sugar but has about one-half to one-third fewer calories. They are called sugar alcohols because their chemical formula is a mixture of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. Despite the “alcohol” part of the name, they do not contain any ethanol. They are frequently used in the food industry as thickeners and sweeteners. We can find them in “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” products. They can be found naturally in some plant products such as fruits and berries.

Examples of sugar alcohols include:

  • Erythritol
  • Glycerol
  • Hydrogenated starch
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

The American Diabetes Association has identified some advantages and disadvantages of sugar alcohols:

Advantages of sugar alcohols

  • Foods with low or reduced-calorie sweeteners can have fewer calories than food products made with sugar.
  • Have less of an effect on blood glucose than other carbohydrates.

Disadvantages of sugar alcohols

  • Many of the food products containing these types of sweeteners still have a significant amount of carbohydrates, calories and fat. It is always important to check the labels.
  • Sugar alcohols consumed in large amounts can have a laxative effect or other gastric symptoms.

Being informed of the advantages and disadvantages of sugar alcohols will help you determine what is best for a balanced diet in your daily lives. If you would like to learn more about healthy lifestyles, visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s My Plate page. Michigan State University Extension offers various educational programs for adults, families, and children that focus on lifestyle changes to promote healthy eating. 

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources