Sugar Alcohols – Friend or Foe?
Sugar alcohols have become a popular alternative to sugar. Common sugar alcohols include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and erythritol. Most sugar alcohols are derived from plant products – sorbitol, mannitol and erythritol from corn syrup and xylitol from birch wood. These sugars are hailed as “safe” alternatives for diabetics and carb conscious consumers but many of them do raise blood sugar levels.
Unfortunately, today the food industry is allowed to label a product as “sugar free” or “no sugar added” if the item contains sugar alcohols and many people mistakenly pay the price by assuming they are safe (especially since it’s common for us to “overindulge” in a sugar free/diet foods/snacks).
Of the four main sugar alcohols, erythritol is one of the most popular zero calorie sweeteners, mostly due to its 1:1 replacement conversion with traditional sugar (unlike other sugar substitutes). Once consumed, erythritol is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream via the stomach and small intestines which can lead to nausea and digestive upset for some people.
It is for the reasons above and below that I do not recommend consuming erythritol (or any other sugar alcohol) on a regular basis. This sugar alcohol (along with sorbitol and mannitol) are made from fructose which is extracted from corn that has been genetically modified to produce higher amounts of fructose. This puts sugar alcohols in a similar category to high fructose corn syrup – an ultra-processed invisible GMO ingredient for many health foods like protein powders, meal replacement bars, chewing gums, mints as well as other “convenient” packaged healthy items. You will also often find it blended into other alternative sugars – Swerve, Pyure, Truvia, and Zsweet.
Top Reasons Not to Consume Sugar Alcohols
GMO Ingredients: Sorbitol, Mannitol and Erythritol are made from the fructose found in corn, which the majority of food grade corn in the US is genetically modified. Animal studies have linked consumption of GMO corn (and its byproducts) to cancer, immune suppression, fatty insulin changes and disruption of the gut microbiome.
Gastrointestinal Problems: Most people report stomach upset, gas and bloating along with loser stools following the use of sugar alcohols, especially erythritol. New or worsening headaches are also commonly reported. This is due to the fact that sugar alcohols are easily fermented by the bacteria in the small/large intestine, producing acidic byproducts and gas, which can irritate the digestive system.
Commonly Combined with Other Sweeteners: Unlike the sugar substitutes below, sugar alcohols are not as sweet as sugar, so they are often combined with other sweetness to achieve the sweetness most people want. Many conventional products mix sugar alcohols with chemical based artificial sweeteners (aspartame (Equal), saccharin (SweetNLow), acesulfame (Equal, Sweetone), neotame (Nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda).
Healthier Sugar (And Sugar Alcohol) Substitutes
Stevia: The “King” of sugar substitutes. Stevia comes with a MASSIVE WARNING – make sure your stevia is just that – real stevia leaf extract, not mixed with other sugars like dextrose or sugar alcohols. Stevia has been used for more than a thousand years for its natural sweetness, zero effect on blood sugar and its concentration of sweetness compared to sugar (2-300x). My top choice for stevia is “Sweet Leaf” which comes in both dry and liquid forms, as its ingredients are only stevia leaf extract and Inulin (a prebiotic which supports the stomach/intestines bacteria).
Monk Fruit: AKA “luo han guo.” Monk fruit has become more popular in the last few years as an alternative to stevia – but its carries another massive warning – Its commonly available as a combination with sugar alcohols or corn sweeteners. Buy itself, it is a fruit extract from the monk fruit – a melon like fruit that grows in china and Thailand that has a sweetness 200-300x that of sugar with little rise in blood sugar levels. The only brand I recommend is MonkDrops – as it contains only extracted monk fruit. Its sold as a 1.5 ounce liquid dropper that is available on amazon.com for $10.00
Yacon Syrup: This is a liquid extract from the Yacon plant that is native to south America. It has a sweet taste and a consistency similar to molasses. The sweetness is due to its large concentration of fructo-oligo-saccharides (FOS) – a type of sugar molecule that the human body cannot absorb or digest. Several studies are emerging suggesting that FOS may even decrease Ghrelin (your hunger hormone) which could lead to mild appetite suppression and weight loss. Additionally, FOS have been shown to act as a prebiotic for digestive bacteria – supporting healthy bacterial relationships within the microbiome. Note: this sugar substitute cannot be cooked with as head destroys the FOS – its primarily used to sweeten cold liquid drinks, dressings or sauces. If interested I recommend Alovitox “Yacon Syrup” – an organic 8oz jar available on amazon.com for $18.00.