Sugar Alcohol

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The name sugar alcohol can confuse many people because it sounds like it is all about the sugar in the alcohol which is not the case.  Sugar alcohol has neither sugar nor alcohol.  It is known as a polyol and can be put in the class of carbohydrates.  Sugar alcohol is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables.  Sugar alcohol has a sweetness that ranges from 25% to 100%.  This means that some sugar alcohol can be as sweet as table sugar.


When you look at the chemical structure of sugar alcohol you will note that it is a mixture of an alcohol molecule and sugar molecule and that is the reason it is called sugar alcohol although it is neither a sugar nor an alcohol.  Sugar alcohol has some calories but it is half the calories found in table sugar. It also has low glycemic index that is why it is great in controlling the sugar level in the blood.  When it comes into contact with oral bacteria in the mouth it does not ferment, that is why it is excellent in dealing with general oral health.

You may be wondering where to find this sugar alcohol because you have never seen it labeled in any of the products you have ever bought.  The fact is that you must have seen several types of sugar alcohol labeled in some of the products you have ever bought.  Below are some types of sugar alcohol:

  • Xylitol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Erythritol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates


You may be wondering where you saw these names.  Just to remind you, sugar alcohol is found in items like candy, chewing gum (sugar-free), baked goods, ice cream and many others.  Sugar alcohols are also found in oral hygiene products which we use every day like some toothpaste, mouthwash and some breath mints.  You will also find sugar alcohols in some medicines like cough syrups and lozenges.  Sports nutrition products are also rich in sugar alcohols.  These products are pre-workout supplements, protein powders  and low-carb.

Very small portion of sugar alcohol is absorbed in the body.  Most of it passes through the small intestine into the large intestine and is excreted.  The small portion which is absorbed in the bloodstream uses little or no insulin to convert into energy.

Sugar alcohol is used in regulating the amount of sugar in the blood of a diabetic.  This is because the sugar alcohol is not absorbed in the blood stream and so very little to no amount of insulin is used to convert it to energy as compared to the amount of insulin that would be used in table sugar.

The bacterial in the mouth do not cause the sugar alcohol to ferment and therefore there is no tooth decay problem which is a major problem with regular sugar consumption.  Some sugar alcohols type like xylitol is known to exhibit these oral bacteria.


Diabetic people are required to eat food low in carbohydrate. Most of this food is tasteless without any sweetener.  If table sugar is used to sweeten it, then it will raise the amount of sugar in the body.  Sugar alcohol is the only sweetener ideal for this diet.  It needs no insulin to convert the energy.  It also has very few calories so it will not cause them to gain any weight.  Sugar alcohol is also used in controlling the glycemic index therefore the rate of carbohydrate is lowered.  Sugar alcohol should be used in small amounts.  Excess consumption of anything can be harmful.  If you have a health problem, it is wise to consult your doctor before using sugar alcohols so that he can advise you on whether to use or not and the amount convenient with you.


Sugar alcohol vs Sugar

Table sugar is very sweet as compared to most sugar alcohols.  It also leaves a sweet taste in mouth that lasts for some time.  Sugar alcohols do not leave any taste in the mouth.  Once consumed it goes down with the taste and the mouth does not hold any sweet taste.  Most sugar alcohols are not as sweet as table sugar.

  • Tooth decay

The oral bacteria found in the mouth do not consume sugar alcohol and even if they do the sugar alcohol is not digested in their body.  They are left full but without any energy.  They therefore die and are exhibited from the mouth leaving the mouth full of oral health.  Oral bacteria cause the table sugar to ferment and they feed on the glucose brought about as a result of fermentation.  These bacteria multiply, feed on the teeth and the surrounding, causing tooth decay and other oral illnesses.


  • Absorption

Sugar alcohols are not absorbed in the blood and if any is absorbed, it is only a minimum amount.  This means that sugar alcohol has no effect on the sugar level in the blood.  Very little insulin is therefore required to convert that little amount that went in the blood.  This is an advantage to diabetic people because the sugar level in the blood will remain low even after consuming the sugar alcohol.  On the other side, table sugar is absorbed in the blood seconds after consumption.  A lot of insulin is required to convert this sugar into energy.  Immediately regular sugar is absorbed in the blood, the level of sugar in the blood rises and causes a health problem to the diabetic and also to those who are not diabetic.

  • Calories

Sugar alcohols have fewer calories as compared to table sugar.  This means that if the same amount of sugar alcohol and the table sugar are consumed, then the person who consumed the table sugar will gain more weight as compared to the one who took sugar alcohol.  Sugar alcohol is therefore ideal for those people who want to lose weight and those with metabolism problem.

  • Saliva

Sugar alcohols stimulate the glands which produce saliva to produce and therefore those people who have a dry mouth have a solution. Table sugar will on the other hand cause the mouth to dry.  If you take a small amount of table sugar your mouth will dry up after sometime.  This is because the oral bacteria in the mouth will cause the sugar to ferment hence dries the mouth and brings forth a bad breathe.



Is sugar alcohol bad?

Sugar alcohol has more advantages than disadvantages.  Just like any other thing if consumed in the right quantity it can be very beneficial to people’s health.  It can improve dental health by exhibiting the bacteria found in the mouth which causes bad breath, tooth decay and other gum diseases.  Most sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol and erythritol are good in giving protection against tooth decay.  This is why they are part of the ingredients found in most toothpaste and chewing gum (sugar free).  The ‘bad’ bacteria in the mouth eat the xylitol but it is not digested and they therefore die. Thus, all the ‘bad’ bacteria are exhibited from the mouth and cannot multiply again.

Sugar alcohols are very delicious food to the good bacteria found in the gut which causes a prebiotic effect example dietary fiber.

There are many rat experimental studies which have indicated that xylitol does increase bone volume and its mineral content which helps protect against osteoporosis.


Many rat experimental studies have shown that xylitol does increase collagen production in the body.  Collagen is a structural protein found in the skin.  It is also found in the muscles, in the bones , blood vessels, digestive system and tendons.  This collagen helps our skin strength and elasticity.  It also helps with replacing dead skin cells.  This shows that it is important to consume this sugar alcohol as one ages to avoid wrinkles.

Some people are known to have a very dry mouth because the glands which produce saliva are not very active.  Sugar alcohols stimulate these glands causing them to produce saliva.


Sugar alcohol side effects

Just like all other products if you consume a large amount of sugar alcohol daily it can cause some serious side effects.  Some people are also sensitive to sugar alcohol and will negatively react to it after consuming even a small amount.

Only a small amount of sugar alcohol is absorbed in the blood.  A large amount goes from the small intestine to the large intestine.  The sugar alcohols that are not digested start to ferment.  As a result, water is attracted in the intestinal tract.  This is when someone starts having some stomach discomfort.  Some people will experience a lot of gas in the stomach.  Others will start to diarrhea. Another common problem is bloating, experienced by those people who take excess amount of sugar alcohol.


Most of the people who are affected by the consumption of sugar alcohols are said to have taken a large amount daily.  Others who are negatively affected are said to have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  Most of the people with IBS have Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).  These bacteria will feast on these sugars causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

When large amount of sugar alcohol is consumed, large amount will be absorbed in the blood and hence there will be fluctuation in the blood sugar.  This will cause health problems to those who have diabetes

If we consider the heating process that is applied so that the sugar alcohol can be extracted one would rule out the fact that is has toxins.  Toxins are harmful to our health.  Processed food is also said to be a major cause of cancer and many other illnesses.

Sugar alcohol is very poisonous to dogs.  If you have a dog as your pet I would suggest you keep sugar alcohols very far from it.  Even a small amount will automatically kill it.  This is a clear proof that sugar alcohols have high levels of toxin.



The positive effects of sugar alcohols on health are more than the negative effect.  Strict precautions should be taken on the amount to consume.  If taken in the required amount, sugar alcohols are very beneficial to our health and especially to the oral health.  It is important to read the direction of use on the label before consuming any product.   The manufacturers should also highlight in bold letter on any products with sugar alcohol that, “EXCESS CONSUMPTION IS HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH”.


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