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What is Sugar Alcohol?

Sugar alcohols are one type of reduced-calorie sweetener and are used in sugar-free candies, chewing gum, and desserts. On average, sugar alcohols provide about half the calories of sugar and other carbohydrates. Even though they are called sugar alcohols, they do not contain alcohol.


Foods with low- or reduced-calorie sweeteners can have fewer calories than foods made with sugar and other caloric sweeteners. This can be helpful if you are trying to lose weight or even to prevent weight gain.

Low-calorie sweeteners are useful for adding extra flavor or sweetness to your food, with few if any extra calories. In addition, these sweeteners are useful for reducing calories and carbohydrates when used instead of sugar in coffee, tea, cereal, and on fruit. You can experiment with your own recipes to include low-calorie sweeteners.


When you’re considering foods with low- or reduced-calorie sweeteners, always check the Nutrition Facts on the label. Many of the food products containing these types of sweeteners still have a significant amount of carbohydrate, calories and fat, so never consider them a “free food” without checking the label. By comparing the calories in the sugar-free version to the regular version, you’ll see whether you’re really getting fewer calories.

Sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect or other gastric symptoms in some people, especially in children.

Some people prefer to use the regular version of a food and cut back on the serving size instead of buying the sugar-free version. Consider price as well. Sugar-free versions often cost more.

Sugar Alcohols are listed as Polyols

Polyols are carbohydrates but they are not sugars, making them sugar-free sweeteners. They are used cup-for-cup (volume-for-volume) in the same amount as sugar is used, unlike low-calorie sweeteners which are used in very small amounts. Because they taste good, people can improve the healthfulness of their diets without having to sacrifice the pleasure of eating sweet foods they enjoy.

Since “polyols” is not a consumer friendly term, many nutritionists and health educators refer to polyols as “sugar replacers” when communicating with consumers. Scientists call them “sugar alcohols” because part of their structure chemically resembles sugar and part is similar to alcohols. However, these sugar-free sweeteners are neither sugars nor alcohols.

The eight polyols currently available for use are listed below. These ingredients may be found in a wide range of products, including chewing gums, candies, ice cream, baked goods and fruit spreads. They are also used in toothpastes, mouthwashes, breath mints and pharmaceuticals such as cough syrups or drops and throat lozenges.


Erythritol is a zero-calorie, good-tasting bulk sweetener which is suitable for a variety of reduced- calorie and sugar-free foods and beverages. It has been part of the human diet for thousands of years due to its presence in fruits and other foods. Erythritol has a high digestive tolerance, is nonglycemic and therefore safe for people with diabetes, and does not promote tooth decay.

Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates

Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates are a family of pleasant tasting bulk sweeteners used in a variety of products. They are exceptionally well suited for sugar-free candies because they do not crystallize. They blend well with flavors and are synergistic with low-calorie sweeteners.


Isomalt is an excellent tasting sugar-free sweetener. Products made with isomalt have the same texture and appearance as those made with sugar. Derived from sugar, isomalt’s health benefits and stability make it a versatile and valuable ingredient for numerous reduced-calorie foods and pharmaceuticals.


Lactitol is a bulk sweetener with a sugar-like taste. Its stability, solubility and reduced calories make it suitable for a variety of low-calorie, low-fat and/or sugar-free foods. Its mild sweet taste makes it ideal for use with low calorie sweeteners.


Maltitol is a reduced calorie bulk sweetener with sugar-like taste and sweetness. Its stability, high sweetness, and structure make it suitable for a variety of reduced-calorie, reduced-fat and sugar-free foods. Maltitol does not promote tooth decay.


Mannitol is a low-calorie sweetener that has been used safely around the world for more than 60 years. About 50 percent as sweet as sucrose, it is found in a variety of reduced-calorie foods and beverages, as well as pharmaceutical products.


Sorbitol is a bulk sweetener with good taste and reduced calories. It does not promote tooth decay. Sorbitol is suitable for a variety of products reduced in calories, sugar or fat and has been safely used for almost half a century.


Xylitol is a good-tasting bulk sweetener which is reduced in calories and dentally safe. Approved in more than 35 countries, its sweetness and bulk make xylitol an increasingly popular ingredient in foods, pharmaceuticals and oral health products. You will find this in gum like Trident!

Contributors: The Calorie Control Council; American Diabetes Association

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