Worth the Calorie Savings? Consider the Dangers of Sugar Alcohols


From ice cream and cookies to candy and chewing gum, you can find so-called “sugar alcohol” sweeteners in a wide variety of processed foods. Other examples include such products as toothpaste, mouthwash and throat lozenges. These snacks and treats often are labeled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.”

Although they are called sugar alcohols, don’t let the name fool you. On a molecular level, sugar alcohols have a similar chemical structure to both sugar and alcohol. Yet, these chemicals contain no sugar or ethyl alcohol, the type of alcohol found in beer or wine. Many fruits and vegetables naturally contain sugar alcohols. However, food manufacturers must highly refine these substances into white granules that look and taste like sugar for use in industrial food production.

Also known as polyols, examples of sugar alcohols include:

  • Erythritol
  • Glycerol
  • Hydrogenated Starch Hydrosates
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Food manufacturers embrace sugar alcohols because products made with these sweeteners often (but not always) pack fewer calories and carbohydrates than those made with cane, honey, maple syrup or other natural sugars. Many companies market products containing sugar alcohols to people with diabetes because polyols do not raise the glycemic index.

To be clear, however, sugar alcohols are not the same as artificial sweeteners such as saccharin or aspartame. Sweet & Low® and Nutrasweet®, for example, contain zero calories, whereas sugar alcohols contain 2.6 calories per gram. However, many leading food manufacturers of so-called healthy snack foods and other products often include sugar alcohols. Some products even include artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohol together in the same products—an unhealthy combination.

Before you snack on “sugar free” cookies and candy, consider the significant health trade-offs of sugar alcohol.

Danger of Sugar Alcohol May Outweigh Any Lower Calorie Benefits

One reason sugar alcohol contains fewer calories is because these sweeteners are nearly indigestible. While our bodies are used to processing many fruits, vegetables, grains and other partially indigestible natural whole foods, our systems do not digest highly refined and concentrated sugar alcohols.

Most sugar alcohols travel to the large intestine where they are metabolized by gut bacteria. These bacteria then release hydrogen gas. As a result, eating too many foods sweetened with sugar alcohols over a short period of time can cause gas, bloating and stomach pain. Undigested sugar alcohols can draw water into the gut through a process called passive diffusion, which causes diarrhea.

Sugar Alcohol Can Complicate Digestive Issues

Those with digestive issues, autoimmune diseases and irritable bowel syndrome in particular should avoid products with sugar alcohol. Ironically, people with Type 1 diabetes, to whom these products often are marketed, already may suffer from digestive issues, which sugar alcohol can exacerbate.

Those who have sensitivity to a group of foods called FODMAPs—which include lactose, legumes, glutens and some fruits and vegetables, as well as polyols—may want to avoid sugar alcohols completely to prevent further disruption of the gut lining.

Little to no research exists concerning the effects of sugar alcohol on the developing fetus or nursing infants. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, therefore, also should avoid products using these sweeteners.

Munk Pack Products Contain No Sugar Alcohols

We’re proud that all our products contain real, minimally processed food without additives and preservatives. We got started making them ourselves in our home kitchen, creating our own oatmeal and smoothies. Never used artificial anything and never will. Take a look at our competitors and see if they can say the same thing (Hint: most of them can’t).

For more about the potential dangers of sugar alcohol, check out this article from the Healthy Home Economist.

For information about healthy, high protein snacks that do not use sugar alcohol, visit our website at https://munkpack.com/.

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