Have you ever heard of glycerin?
It’s a type of carbohydrate that is often used in food and drink products, as well as in cosmetics.
But did you know that glycerin is also classified as a sugar alcohol?
That’s right, this sweet-tasting compound falls into the same category as other popular sugar alcohols like sorbitol and erythritol.
In this article, we’ll explore what exactly glycerin is, how it’s used, and whether or not it’s safe for consumption.
So let’s dive in and answer the question: is glycerin a sugar alcohol?
Is Glycerin A Sugar Alcohol?
Yes, glycerin is indeed a sugar alcohol. It is a type of polyol that is commonly used as a sweetener in food and drink products.
Like other sugar alcohols, glycerin has a sweet taste but is not metabolized as sugar in the body. This means that it does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels and is often used as a sweetener in foods marketed to diabetics and low-carb dieters.
Glycerin also has the unique property of attracting moisture, which makes it a popular ingredient in food manufacturing as a preservative and to help keep foods moist.
What Is Glycerin And How Is It Made?
Glycerin, also known as glycerine or glycerol, is a colorless, odorless, and non-toxic liquid that is commonly used in various industries, including cosmetics, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and more. It is a type of carbohydrate called a sugar alcohol or polyol, which means it has a sweet taste but is not metabolized as sugar in the body.
Glycerin can be made from either animal fats, plant fats, or through synthetic production. The natural occurrence of glycerin can be found in fermented foods and beverages such as beer, honey, vinegar, wine, and wine vinegar.
The process of making glycerin involves heating triglyceride-rich vegetable fats such as palm, soy, and coconut oils under pressure or together with a strong alkali like lye. This process causes the glycerin to split away from the fatty acids and mix together with water, forming an odorless and sweet-tasting syrup-like liquid.
Glycerin’s safety has been confirmed by multiple global health authorities including the US Food and Drug Administration. It is used in various food and drink products such as beverages, nutrition bars, cake icings, soft candies, chewing gum, condiments, creams, diet foods, dried fruits, fondant, fudge, and marshmallows.
Furthermore, glycerin has been found to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It is used in wound care products such as hydrogel sheets for burns and other wound care due to its ability to reduce inflammation. Glycerin is also used in medical and pharmaceutical preparations to improve smoothness and provide lubrication. It is found in various products such as cough syrups, toothpaste, mouthwashes, skin care products, shaving cream, hair care products, soaps, and water-based personal lubricants.
The Many Uses Of Glycerin In Food, Drink, And Cosmetics
Glycerin has a wide range of applications in the food, drink, and cosmetics industries. In food and beverage products, it serves as a humectant, solvent, and sweetener. It is often used as a filler in low-fat foods and as a thickening agent in liqueurs. Glycerin can also help preserve certain types of plant leaves.
As a sugar substitute, glycerin has approximately 27 kilocalories per teaspoon and is 60% as sweet as sucrose. It does not feed the bacteria that form dental plaque and cause cavities, making it a popular ingredient in oral care products. Glycerin is also added to icing (frosting) to prevent it from setting too hard.
In the cosmetics industry, glycerin is used as a moisturizer due to its ability to attract moisture. It can be found in a wide range of skincare products such as lotions, creams, and soaps. Glycerin is also used as a solvent and emulsifier in cosmetic formulations.
Glycerin can be derived from animal fats, plant fats, or can be synthetically produced. Vegetable glycerin is the variant made from plant oils and is often used in vegan and natural products. It is chemically identical to naturally occurring glycerin and is handled the same way by the body.
Understanding Sugar Alcohols And How Glycerin Fits In
Sugar alcohols are a type of sweetener that are commonly used in foods labeled “sugar-free”. They have about one-half to one-third fewer calories than sugar and are often found in chewing gum, sugar-free candies, cookies, soft drinks, and other foods. Sugar alcohols are called such because their chemical formula is a mixture of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules, although they do not contain any ethanol.
Examples of sugar alcohols include erythritol, glycerol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). These sweeteners taste and look like sugar but have fewer calories. They also have less of an effect on blood glucose levels than other carbohydrates. However, it is important to note that many food products containing these types of sweeteners still have a significant amount of carbohydrates, calories, and fat. It is always important to check the labels.
Glycerin belongs to the same category of carbohydrates as sugar alcohols – polyols. It is used as a sweetener in various food and drink products and has a slightly higher calorie count per gram than sugar. Glycerin occurs naturally in fermented foods and beverages like beer, honey, vinegar, wine, and wine vinegar. It is also commercially produced from fats and oils or through the fermentation of yeast, sugar or starch.
Is Glycerin Safe For Consumption? Examining The Research
The safety of glycerin for consumption has been extensively researched and confirmed by health authorities around the world. The World Health Organization, the European Union, and countries such as Australia, Canada, and Japan have all declared glycerin safe for consumption. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also confirmed that glycerin is safe for consumption.
However, it is important to note that consuming excessive amounts of glycerin may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea. This is true for most sugar alcohols, including mannitol and sorbitol. As a result, packaged foods that contain these sugar alcohols must include a warning on their label about potential laxative effects.
Studies have also shown that glycerin can cause mild side effects when consumed orally, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and excessive thirst. However, these side effects are generally rare and occur only in some people.
In addition to its use as a food additive, glycerin is also used in other products such as skincare products and vaginal lubricants. It is generally considered safe for topical use; however, some people may experience an allergic reaction when applied directly to the skin. Therefore, it is recommended to conduct a patch test before using any product containing glycerin.
Glycerin Vs Other Sugar Alcohols: Similarities And Differences
While glycerin is a type of sugar alcohol, it differs from other sugar alcohols like sorbitol and erythritol in a few ways.
Firstly, glycerin is metabolized more slowly than other sugar alcohols, which means that it provides slightly more energy. In some cases, glycerin is only partially metabolized and the remainder is excreted from the body.
Secondly, glycerin has a unique property of attracting moisture, which makes it a popular ingredient in food manufacturing as a preservative and to help keep foods moist. Other sugar alcohols do not have this property.
However, glycerin and other sugar alcohols share some similarities. They are all classified as polyols and are reduced-calorie sweeteners that do not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. They are also known to cause gastrointestinal discomfort if consumed in large amounts.
Conclusion: The Verdict On Whether Glycerin Is A Sugar Alcohol
In conclusion, glycerin is a sugar alcohol that is derived from animal fats, plant fats, or can be synthetically produced. It belongs to a special category of carbohydrates called polyols, which also includes other sugar alcohols like sorbitol and erythritol.
While glycerin has a sweet taste, it is not metabolized as sugar in the body and does not cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is often used as a sweetener in foods designed for diabetics and low-carb dieters. Additionally, glycerin’s moisture-attracting property makes it a popular ingredient in food manufacturing as a preservative and to help keep foods moist.
Despite the fact that glycerin and other sugar alcohols are metabolized more slowly than other carbohydrates, they still contribute calories. This means that it is important to consider the calorie content of foods containing glycerin for weight control purposes.