Polyols (or sugar alcohools) - are they all the same?

Short answer: Absolutely NOT! They differ in sweetness, absorption, side effects, and glycemic impact. 

But what are polyols? They are naturally occurring carbohydrates and can be found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables and are generally manufactured by processing certain vegetables. They are used by the food industry as sugar-replacement for having fewer calories. Because some of them are not absorbed, they tend to be removed from counting net carbs - and that's where you need to be extra careful! There is no official definition of net carbs, so you should always check what is the polyol used in the product before removing them from the carb count. 

Most common polyols are:

Erythritol

The good: about 70% as sweet as sugar, but ith only 6% of the calories! Because it is less sweet than sugar it tends to be combined with other high-intensity sweeteners such as monk fruit or stevia. It does not raise blood sugar! It's not absorbed by the body and can be excluded from the net carb count. It doesn't cause digestive issues. 

The bad: has a cooling effect that can be more or less pronounced depending on the amount and how it's used.

Bottom line: our first choice for low-carb sweetener! You can safely exclude the carbs from the net carb count.

Xylitol

The good: as sweet as sugar, but with 40% fewer calories! Very low glycemic index, meaning no insulin spike. It can be removed from the net carb count.

The bad: may cause gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea to some people. It has a slight cooling effect on your tongue. 

The worse: it's HIGHLY toxic to dogs so you need to be careful with your furry friends!

Bottom line: great low-carb sweetener for those who can tolerate it! Go ahead and exclude the carbs. 

Sorbitol:

The good: Low glycemic index, no insulin spikes!

The ok: 60% as sweet as sugar and with 65% of calories, meaning you need a greater quantity to achieve the same level of sweetness and would be ingesting similar amounts of calories. 

The bad: Known to cause gastrointestinal problems

Bottom line: it's a pass for us. While it's highly used in the industry on diet products, chewing gum, and medication (as a bulking agent), the lower level of sweetness combined with the laxative effect makes it a no-go! I've seen recommendations for not excluding it completely from the net carb count, so be careful. 

Maltitol:

The good: almost as sweet as sugar, about half of the calories of sugar.

The bad: Highest glycemic index within sugar alcohols - between 35 and 52 depending on the form (powder, syrup, etc) - as a comparison table sugar has a GI of 60, meaning it will likely cause blood sugar spikes. Also causes gastrointestinal issues. 

Bottom line: skip it! It's highly used in the industry because of cost, but I wouldn't remove the carbs from the net carb count given it will kick you out of ketosis. At least part of maltitol carbs must be considered. 

Now you know a bit more about sugar alcohols, so start reading labels and run from maltitol!

2 comments

  • Hi Margo! Monk fruit is similar to stevia in several ways: it is a high-intensity, natural sweetener, with zero glycemic index and zero calories, but can have an unpleasant taste / aftertaste. I personally like to use erythritol / stevia blends, however, I have used a few times eythritol / monk fruit blend with awesome results. The only reason I use the stevia blend instead is cost.

    If you plan to buy it pure, non-blended with another sweetener, it’s super important to pay attention at the ingredient list. High-intensity sweeteners tend to have another ingredient, the so-called bulk agent because otherwise it’s difficult to use as you would need just a tiny amount. Maltodextrin is a common bulk agent, and it’s a carb with a high glycemic index.

    Ana from Jubi
  • what are your thoughts on Monk fruit?

    Margo

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