Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols provide a sweet taste with fewer calories than table sugar. And unlike sugar, sugar alcohols do not cause cavities.

What They Are
Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that chemically have characteristics of both sugars and alcohols. However, sugar alcohols do not contain the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.
Where They Are Found
Sugar alcohols are found naturally in small amounts in a variety of fruits and vegetables and are also commercially produced from sugars and starch.

Commercially produced sugar alcohols are added to foods as reduced-calorie sweeteners and are found in many sugar-free and reduced-sugar products, including:
  • Chewing gum
  • Dairy desserts (such as ice cream, other frozen desserts, and puddings)
  • Frostings
  • Grain-based desserts (such as cakes and cookies)
  • Sweets (such as hard and soft candies, flavored jam, and jelly spreads)
What They Do
  • Sugar alcohols provide a sweet taste with fewer calories per gram than table sugar (sucrose), and are commonly used in place of sugar and often in combination with artificial sweeteners.
  • Sugar alcohols in food add bulk and texture, help retain moisture, and prevent browning that occurs during heating.
  • Sugar alcohols produce a “cooling” sensation in the mouth when added to foods in high concentrations — for example, in sugar-free hard candy or chewing gum.
  • Unlike sugar, sugar alcohols do not react with plaque bacteria in the mouth. So, they do not cause cavities (also known as “dental caries”).
Health Facts
  • Sugar alcohols are slowly and incompletely absorbed from the small intestine into the blood. As a result, they provide fewer calories per gram than sugar and produce a smaller change in blood glucose (often referred to as blood sugar) than other carbohydrates.
  • Sugar alcohols can also produce abdominal gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals because they are not completely absorbed by the body and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. For this reason, foods that contain the sugar alcohols sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning on their label that states “excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”
Action Steps For Monitoring Sugar Alcohols in Your Diet
Use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for monitoring consumption of sugar alcohols. The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages shows the amount in grams (g) of total carbohydrate and sugars and the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of total carbohydrate in one serving of the food.

Food manufacturers may voluntarily list the amount in grams (g) per serving of sugar alcohols on the Nutrition Facts Label (under Total Carbohydrate). They may also list the name of a specific sugar alcohol if only one is added to the food. But, food manufacturers are required to list sugar alcohols if a statement is made on the package labeling about the health effects of sugar alcohols or sugars (when sugar alcohols are present in the food).
  • Look for sugar alcohols on the ingredient list on a food package. Some examples of sugar alcohols are: erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.
    Tip: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight — the closer they are to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.

  • When choosing “sugar-free” foods containing sugar alcohols, remember to use the Nutrition Facts Label to compare the calories and nutrients in the sugar-free version to the regular version of a particular food. These products may still have a significant amount of calories, carbohydrate, and fat.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 package (272g)
Amount Per Serving
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
Calories: 2,000 2,500
Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
  Saturated Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
  Dietary Fiber 25g 30g
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