Carbohydrates vs. Sugar Alcohols

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list the nutritional information of all products.  This breakdown will list protein, fat (saturated and unsaturated), calories, serving size, and carbohydrates among other things.  Many of our patients have been confused by the difference between sugar and sugar alcohols listed in the nutritional information.

Since our program is a low-carbohydrate program, we will want to restrict carb intake to accelerate the fat burning state. Many products on the market claim to be “low-carb” and yet, when we look on the nutritional information, sugar alcohols are listed.  These “low-carb” products are deceptive in that they still contain carbs! Sugar alcohols resemble sugar in their molecular structure and also have similarities to alcohol in chemical structure.  They do not contain any ethyl alcohol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.

Sugar alcohols are ingredients used to add bulk to foods and to sweeten them. Known as polyols, they are derived generally from natural ingredients such as berries and fruits, but they have been transformed molecularly. They are most often used as a sugar substitute and have fewer calories than sugar. They don’t have them same effect as pure sugar or glucose as they absorb slower and require less insulin than glucose, this is why they are often found in “diabetic friendly” foods. They are listed by their chemical names in the ingredients and you can find them under sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, hydrogenated starch hydrosalates, and malitol. They are rarely found in their base form and are usually a part of highly processed foods as well as toothpaste and chewing gum.  In small quantities, they are a relative safe alternative to sugar. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that they are safe!  Many diabetic and diet food manufacturers are using them in larger and larger quantities and the adverse effects are coming to light.

The biggest negative associated with these sugar alcohols are intestinal problems. Diarrhea, gas, bloating and nausea are all associated with consumption of sugar alcohols. They are also poorly digested by some individuals and can have a significant laxative effect.  Furthermore, they should be avoided by people trying to lose weight and we do not recommend them to our dieters as they have been shown to cause weight gain. Furthermore, type 1 insulin dependent diabetics should avoid all sugar alcohols as they can cause unsafe blood sugar elevation.

In conclusion, don’t be fooled by diet foods that say “low carb” do your homework and read the labels, if a product is sweetened with sugar alcohols, think twice before consuming it as it may have many unwanted side effects.  For more information on how our program differs from other diet programs, contact us at 970-686-9117 to schedule a complimentary consultation or attend a complimentary lecture.

Dr. Jason W. Haas

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