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What are Sugar Alcohols?

Low-carb diets were all the rage for a very long time, and today they still command a large audience. Many people were forced to satiate their carb cravings with sugarless gum, no-carb protein bars and diet drinks, which often times contained a separate category for sugar alcohols under the “carbohydrates” section of their nutrition facts. But what exactly are sugar alcohols and how do they affect the body?

Sugar alcohols fall under the classification of “nutritive sweeteners” because they contain calories, although they generally have fewer calories per gram than sugar. While the name may be sugar alcohol, they are actually carbohydrates which are neither sugar nor alcohol, but only resemble them in chemical structure. Some sugar alcohols are:

• Xylitol
• Maltitol
• Sorbitol
• Mannitol

The positive to sugar alcohols is that foods can be labeled as sugar-free when they contain these compounds instead of sugary sweeteners. Sugar alcohols do not spike insulin levels, lower total calorie intake and decrease tooth decay.

On the down side, sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed by the body, and can lead to a variety of stomach problems including gas, bloating and diarrhea. Also, since they do contain calories, sugar alcohols cannot be eaten with abandonment, as excessive consumption can be comparable to sugar-containing foods.

While sugar alcohols may be a better choice than eaten sugar-laded foods, they do not come without warning. Be sure to read the labels of foods claiming to be sugar-free, as there may be sugar alcohols loaded into these products.