Sugar alcohols explained

Sugar alcohols explained

by Pamela Ng 21 Feb 2020

What exactly are sugar alcohols? You may have seen them in snacks and food products that market themselves as sugar-free, but it is in many of those foods that you see sugar alcohols being used as a sugar substitute. While it has an edge over conventional sugars, sugar alcohols can also produce several side-effects. Here are the pros and cons to sugar alcohols:


Pro 1: They do not cause spikes in blood glucose levels

Sugar alcohols are sweet but the body digests them poorly. As a result, the sugars are released into the bloodstream more slowly and incompletely. This prevents a spike in blood sugar levels, allowing diabetics to enjoy sweet foods without compromising on their glucose levels.


Pro 2: They help prevent tooth decay

Conventional sugars can cause tooth decays. However, sugar alcohols don’t give such a problem. This is because the bacteria in our mouths do not utilise sugar alcohols, and so they don’t multiply as fast to cause tooth decay. In fact, xylitol – a type of sugar alcohol – has been found to even inhibit the growth of oral bacteria.


Pro 3: They help to control weight

Sugar alcohols do not contain as much carbohydrates and calories as conventional sugars. This translates to lower calories in foods and help in controlling weight. However, it should be mindful that overeating in general (even foods with sugar alcohols) can lead to weight gain.


Con 1: They cause a laxative effect

As in Pro 1, sugar alcohols don’t get digested as well as normal sugars. While this trait gives sugar alcohol it’s edge, it also contributes to its drawback. Incomplete digestion of sugar alcohols leads to being much of them are excreted from the body. Thus, consuming too much food with sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect, causing diarrhoea and dehydration.


Con 2: Excessiveness can still affect blood glucose level

While sugar alcohols generally don’t cause blood glucose level to spike, overconsumption can still increase it. Thus, it is still good to be prudent when snacking on sweet food, even if it’s sugar-free.


Sugar alcohols are nothing new, but they are not as prolific as non-nutritive sweeteners due to low awareness. As with everything, sugar alcohols can cause some side effects despite their benefits. Don’t think you can get away scot-free when it comes to sugar-free snacking!