Are you curious about the sweeteners used in your favorite foods and drinks?
You may have heard of sugar alcohols, but what about glycerol?
This carbohydrate is often used as a sweetener in various products, but is it considered a sugar alcohol?
In this article, we’ll explore the properties of glycerol and compare it to other sugar alcohols to determine if it belongs in the same category.
So grab a snack and let’s dive in!
Is Glycerol A Sugar Alcohol?
Glycerol, also known as glycerin, is a type of carbohydrate that is commonly used as a sweetener in various food and drink products. It is often compared to sugar alcohols, which are also used as sweeteners in many products.
So, is glycerol a sugar alcohol? The answer is yes and no.
Glycerol is technically classified as a sugar alcohol because it contains hydroxyl groups (-OH) attached to each carbon atom, just like other sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol. However, glycerol is unique in that it contains three hydroxyl groups, whereas most other sugar alcohols contain only one or two.
Another difference between glycerol and other sugar alcohols is its calorie content. Glycerol contains slightly more calories per gram than sugar, whereas most sugar alcohols are almost non-caloric.
Despite these differences, glycerol is still considered a type of sugar alcohol and is often used in the same way as other sugar alcohols in food and drink products.
What Is Glycerol?
Glycerol, or glycerin, is a three-carbon backbone of a triglyceride and is classified as a sugar alcohol or polyol. It is mildly antimicrobial and antiviral, making it an FDA-approved treatment for wounds. Glycerol is commonly used in wound care products, such as hydrogel sheets for burns, due to its bactericidal and antiviral effects. It is also used in medical, pharmaceutical, and personal care preparations to improve smoothness, provide lubrication, and act as a humectant.
Glycerol has been found to relieve skin conditions like ichthyosis and xerosis when used topically. It is also used in allergen immunotherapies, cough syrups, elixirs and expectorants, toothpaste, mouthwashes, skin care products, shaving cream, hair care products, soaps, and water-based personal lubricants. In solid dosage forms like tablets, glycerol is used as a tablet holding agent.
Glycerol has various medical applications as well. It is used in blood banking to preserve red blood cells before freezing. When taken rectally, glycerol functions as a laxative by irritating the anal mucosa and inducing a hyperosmotic effect that expands the colon by drawing water into it to induce peristalsis resulting in evacuation. Alternatively, it can be administered in a dilute solution as a high-volume enema.
Glycerol can also be taken orally as a rapid treatment for severely elevated eye pressure. Additionally, researchers have shown that the probiotic Limosilactobacillus reuteri bacteria can be supplemented with glycerol to enhance its production of antimicrobial substances in the human gut. Glycerol has also been incorporated as a component of bio-ink formulations in the field of bioprinting due to its viscosity-enhancing properties.
Properties Of Glycerol
Glycerol has a number of unique properties that make it useful in various industries. It is a clear, colorless, and viscous liquid with a sweet taste. Glycerol has the molecular formula HOCH2CHOHCH2OH and is classified as a trihydroxy sugar alcohol.
One of the most notable properties of glycerol is its antimicrobial and antiviral properties. An 85% solution of glycerin has been shown to have bactericidal and antiviral effects, making it an FDA-approved treatment for wounds. It is commonly used in wound care products, including hydrogel sheets for burns and other wound care.
Glycerol is also used as a humectant in various personal care products such as soaps, toothpaste, and mouthwashes. It has been found to relieve ichthyosis and xerosis when used topically. In addition, it is used in medical and pharmaceutical preparations as a means of improving smoothness and providing lubrication.
Another property of glycerol is its ability to draw moisture up through skin layers, which makes it an effective ingredient in skin care products. It slows or prevents excessive drying and evaporation, making it useful for people with sensitive or easily irritated skin.
Glycerol has also been used as a laxative when taken rectally. It irritates the anal mucosa, inducing a hyperosmotic effect that expands the colon by drawing water into it to induce peristalsis resulting in evacuation.
In bioprinting, glycerol is incorporated as a component of bio-ink formulations. The glycerol content adds viscosity to the bio-ink without adding large protein, saccharide, or glycoprotein molecules.
Sugar Alcohols: A Brief Overview
Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate commonly used as sweeteners in various food and drink products. They are called sugar alcohols because their chemical structure is a hybrid of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. Examples of sugar alcohols include erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.
One of the main advantages of sugar alcohols is that they provide fewer calories than regular sugar. On average, sugar alcohols provide about one-half to one-third of the calories of white sugar. This makes them a popular choice for people who want to reduce their calorie intake while still enjoying sweet foods and drinks.
Another advantage of sugar alcohols is that they have a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. This means that they cause a smaller increase in blood sugar levels after consumption. This makes them a good option for people with diabetes who need to manage their blood sugar levels.
However, it’s important to note that consuming too much sugar alcohol can lead to digestive issues such as gas and diarrhea. It’s also important to check labels carefully as many products containing sugar alcohols may still have significant amounts of carbohydrates, calories, and fat.
Comparing Glycerol To Other Sugar Alcohols
When compared to other sugar alcohols, glycerol has some unique properties. For one, it has a slightly higher calorie content than most other sugar alcohols. Additionally, glycerol contains three hydroxyl groups, whereas most other sugar alcohols contain only one or two.
In terms of sweetness, glycerol has a similar level of sweetness to sucrose (table sugar), while other sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol have a lower level of sweetness. However, sugar alcohols are often used in smaller quantities than sucrose due to their intense sweetness.
Another difference between glycerol and other sugar alcohols is their effect on the body. Glycerol is metabolized differently than other sugar alcohols and is more readily absorbed by the body. This means that it does not cause the same digestive issues as some other sugar alcohols can.
Health Effects Of Glycerol Consumption
Glycerol consumption has been studied for its potential health effects, particularly in relation to hydration and athletic performance. Studies have shown that beverages containing glycerol can enhance and maintain hydration status, as well as improve endurance exercise performance by attenuating adverse physiological changes associated with dehydration. These improvements to performance include increased endurance time to exhaustion by up to 24%, or a 5% increase in power or work.
However, it is important to note that some studies have found no performance benefits during either prolonged exercise or specific skill and agility tests. In studies that have shown benefits, the improvements have been associated with thermoregulatory and cardiovascular changes. These include increased plasma volume and sweat rates, as well as reduced core temperature and ratings of perceived exertion.
While glycerol consumption can result in hyperhydration, the documented benefits to exercise performance remain inconsistent. It is also important to note that in a very small number of subjects, glycerol consumption has been associated with side-effects including nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, and headaches.
When taken by mouth, glycerol is possibly safe when used short-term. Side effects might include headaches, dizziness, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea. However, glycerol is likely safe when applied to the skin and may cause redness, itching, and burning. Glycerol suppositories and enemas are also likely safe for over-the-counter use.
Glycerol In Food And Drink Products
Glycerol is commonly used in a variety of food and drink products as a humectant, solvent, and sweetener. It is often added to various beverages, nutrition and energy bars, cake icings, soft candies, chewing gum, condiments, creams, diet foods, dried fruits, fondant, fudge and marshmallows. Glycerol also serves as a thickening agent in liqueurs and as filler in commercially prepared low-fat foods such as cookies.
In addition to its sweetening properties, glycerol is also used as a preservative in certain types of plant leaves. It is labeled as E number E422 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when used as a food additive.
As a sugar substitute, glycerol 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 dental cavities, making it a popular ingredient in sugar-free or no sugar added products.
However, it is important to note that glycerol can have a laxative effect or other gastric symptoms if consumed in large amounts. Therefore, it is recommended to check the labels of sugar-free products and find the total number of carbohydrates per serving to incorporate those carbohydrates into your overall meal plan.