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Sugar substitutes based on polyatomic alcohols – pros and cons for diabetes

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Sugar substitutes based on polyatomic alcohols are often labeled as the “best” for diabetes – but they can cause stomach upset. Despite this, consumption of such sweeteners in approved doses should be completely safe for human health.

The latest generation of multi-atomic alcohol-based sweeteners (xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, etc.) are frequent ingredients in products labeled acceptable for diabetes. However, European Union regulators have a very negative view¹ of such labeling.

The use of such sweeteners can have a negative effect on the metabolism of people with diabetes – especially when taken at the same time as sugar-lowering drugs. The following article discusses why such multi-atomic alcohols should be wary.

Multi-Atomic Alcohols (Polyols) – What Are They?

Multi-atomic alcohols - what are they?

Polyalcohols (polyols) are a class of organic compounds widely used in the food industry. In particular, polyalcohols are positioned as “last generation sweeteners” – because they taste sweet and contain fewer calories.

From a physical standpoint, polyols are carbohydrates with an extremely complex molecular structure – like fiber, they cannot be fully digested and absorbed by the human body. Plus, unlike sugar, polyatomic alcohols usually do not affect gastric enzymes.

Note that despite the name, they do not contain alcohol in the form of ethanol – that is, they cannot cause alcohol intoxication. Strictly speaking, multi-atomic alcohols are better compared to glycerol (a typical category representative) – not ethyl alcohol.

Which sweeteners do they contain?

Multi-atomic alcohols include more than a dozen sweeteners available under various brand names. Below are typical examples – and for ease of reference, coded by number (sugar substitutes are often “hidden” in this way):

  • sorbitol (E420)
  • mannitol (E421)
  • Isomalt (E953)
  • maltitol (E965)
  • lactite (E966)
  • xylite (E967)
  • erythritol (E968)
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Is it acceptable in diabetes?

Multi-Atomic Alcohols in Diabetes

The main problem with using polyalcohols as sweeteners is gastrointestinal reactions. A pronounced laxative effect, various abdominal bloating, flatulence – as well as diarrhea – may be observed.

Given that taking doctor-prescribed sugar-lowering drugs is quite often associated with similar side effects – consuming even small amounts of sugar alcohols can lead to gastric disturbances in some people.

Difficulty with carbohydrate counting

Another practical difficulty in the use of multiatomic alcohol-based sweeteners is the inability to accurately count the number of carbohydrates in the composition.

More often than not, such sweeteners contain 40-50% fewer carbohydrates and calories than regular sugar – but the figure varies depending on the type of supplement.

In addition, it is impossible to predict with any certainty the percentage of absorption of such carbohydrates by the body of a particular person with diabetes.

Which sweetener is best?

Which sweetener is best?

It’s important to stipulate that consuming food-approved sweeteners should not be associated with any health risks (at least in the recommended dosage)-as they undergo multi-step testing.

None of the sweeteners on the market can be considered “healthier” or “better” – ultimately, the choice must be based on individual taste preferences as well as application specifics.

For example, “natural” stevia often goes through more stages of chemical transformation than “synthetic” sucralose (which is derived from regular sugar and differs from it by a few molecules). At the same time, stevia is slightly bitter – and many people avoid it solely for this reason.

Are sugar alcohols harmful?

Despite the fact that sugar alcohols based on polyatomic alcohols can disrupt the gastrointestinal tract of some people – we are not talking about their harm to health.

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Xylitol, used ubiquitously in chewing gum, cannot be fermented by bacteria in the human mouth – and, unlike sugar, is not harmful to dental health.

In addition, polyols generally withstand high temperatures and do not caramelize when heated – allowing them to be used in baking.

Sugar substitutes based on polyatomic alcohols are often labeled as the “best” for diabetes – but they can cause stomach upset. Nevertheless, consumption of such sweeteners in approved doses should be completely safe for human health.

Consult a specialist to clarify possible contraindications.

Data sources:

  • Sugar, sweeteners and diabetes, Source
  • Eat Any Sugar Alcohol Lately? source
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The articles on this site are for information purposes only. The site administrators are not responsible for attempting to apply any recipe, advice or diet, nor do they guarantee that the information provided will help or harm you personally. Be cautious and always consult a doctor or nutritionist!

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