Sugar Alcohols

Sugar Alcohols

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols (referring to their chemical structures), are hydrogenated mono-, di-, and polysaccharides.1 They are commonly used as natural alternative sweeteners and bulking agents.2,3 Unlike artificial sweeteners (eg, aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin), sugar alcohols provide some caloric value and are naturally present in some fruits and vegetables in small amounts.1,2 They are also commercially produced in large quantities and are increasingly used in foods and drinks.

Here are the types of sugar alcohols internationally approved for use in food products:4

  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol
  • Erythritol


What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are only partially absorbed and metabolized by the body, providing on average approximately half as much calories (2 kcals/g) as nutritive sweeteners (ie, glucose and sucrose).1,2 Their metabolism is insulin-independent and is suggested to have minimal effects on blood glucose levels.1,2,5 Various studies have shown that sugar alcohols do result in some insulinemic and glycemic responses, but that these responses were much less than when glucose or sucrose was consumed.6–8 Current research seems to suggest that sugar alcohols may be preferable to nutritive and artificial sweeteners as they may have more favorable effects on glucose metabolism, lipids, and pro-inflammatory pathways.1

However, sugar alcohols may cause undesired gastrointestinal discomfort.2 Because they are only partially absorbed by the small intestine, the unabsorbed sugar alcohols reach the colon and are fermented by colonic bacteria to produce hydrogen and methane. This can cause abdominal bloating and cramping, flatulence, and diarrhea. Additionally, even though rigorous studies have found that sugar alcohols have no health risks,4 more research is needed to determine their long-term health effects.1,3

For individuals with diabetes, it must be noted that sugar alcohols do result in some glycemic and insulinemic responses, and thus must be consumed in moderation.1,2 When consuming products with large quantities of sugar alcohols, use caution and discuss with your health care provider when appropriate.


1. Mejia E, Pearlman M. Natural alternative sweeteners and diabetes management. Curr Diab Rep. 2019;19(12):142. doi:10.1007/s11892-019-1273-8
2. Wolever T, Piekarz A, Hollands M, Younker K. Sugar alcohols and diabetes: a review. Can J Diabetes. 2002;26(4):356-362.
3. Wiebe N, Padwal R, Field C, Marks S, Jacobs R, Tonelli M. A systematic review on the effect of sweeteners on glycemic response and clinically relevant outcomes. BMC Med. 2011;9:123. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-123
4. Grembecka M. Sugar Alcohols. In: Melton L, Shahidi F, Varelis P, eds. Encyclopedia of Food Chemistry. Academic Press; 2019:265-275. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-100596-5.21625-9
5. Gray A, Threlkeld RJ. Nutritional recommendations for individuals with diabetes. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., eds. Endotext., Inc.; 2000. Accessed July 7, 2022.
6. Overduin J, Collet TH, Medic N, et al. Failure of sucrose replacement with the non-nutritive sweetener erythritol to alter GLP-1 or PYY release or test meal size in lean or obese people. Appetite. 2016;107:596-603. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.09.009
7. Wölnerhanssen BK, Cajacob L, Keller N, et al. Gut hormone secretion, gastric emptying, and glycemic responses to erythritol and xylitol in lean and obese subjects. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2016;310(11):E1053-1061. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00037.2016
8. Mohsenpour MA, Kaseb F, Nazemian R, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Fallahzadeh H, Salehi-Abargouei A. The effect of a new mixture of sugar and sugar-alcohols compared to sucrose and glucose on blood glucose increase and the possible adverse reactions: A phase I double-blind, three-way randomized cross-over clinical trial. Endocrinol Diabetes Nutr. 2019;66(10):647-653. doi:10.1016/j.endinu.2018.12.008



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