Are you a fan of sugar-free candy? Have you ever wondered what makes it sweet without the added calories of regular sugar?
The answer lies in a type of sweetener called sugar alcohol. Despite its name, sugar alcohol is neither sugar nor alcohol. It’s a type of carbohydrate that’s commonly used in sugar-free candies, chewing gum, and other sweet treats.
In this article, we’ll explore what sugar alcohol is, how it’s used in candy, and whether it’s a healthier alternative to regular sugar.
So, let’s dive in and satisfy our sweet tooth while keeping our health in check!
What Is Sugar Alcohol In Sugar Free Candy?
Sugar alcohol is a type of sweetener that’s commonly used in sugar-free candy. It’s a carbohydrate that’s similar in structure to sugar, but it has fewer calories. Sugar alcohol is also known as polyols, and it’s often added to processed foods to make them sweeter without adding extra calories.
Sugar alcohol is not just one type of sweetener, but rather a group of sweeteners that includes xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, erythritol, and others. These sweeteners are often found in sugar-free candies, chewing gum, chocolate-flavored desserts, baked goods, and ice cream.
What Is Sugar Alcohol?
Sugar alcohol, also known as polyols, is a type of reduced-calorie sweetener that is commonly used in sugar-free candy. Despite the name, sugar alcohol is neither sugar nor alcohol. It is a type of carbohydrate that has a chemical structure similar to both sugar and alcohol. Sugar alcohols occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables, but most of the sugar alcohols used in processed foods are produced industrially.
The most commonly used sugar alcohols in the food industry include xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, erythritol, and others. These sweeteners are about 25-100% as sweet as sugar, but they have fewer calories and do not have the same negative effects as regular sugar, such as promoting tooth decay and significantly raising blood sugar levels.
When you see a food labeled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added,” it may be sweetened with sugar alcohols. Food companies often combine sugar alcohols with artificial sweeteners to make foods taste sweeter. Sugar alcohols stimulate the tongue’s sweet taste buds, adding flavor without extra sugar or calories. This allows food companies to market their products as low-carb, sugar-free, or diabetes-friendly without sacrificing taste.
Sugar alcohols are considered low digestible carbs, meaning that when you eat them, your small intestine does not completely absorb them. Instead, they travel to your large intestine, where bacteria ferment them. Certain sugar alcohols may contribute to a healthy digestive system by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.
When counting carbohydrates for products made with sugar alcohols, it’s important to subtract half of the grams of sugar alcohol listed on the food label. Sugar alcohols may be found in products that are labeled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.” This can include sugar-free candies, chocolate, and energy bars. However, it’s important to note that sugar alcohols are still a form of carbohydrate and can still affect your blood sugar levels, albeit not as dramatically as regular sugar.
How Is Sugar Alcohol Used In Sugar-Free Candy?
Sugar alcohol is used in sugar-free candy as a sweetener to mimic the taste of regular sugar. It provides a sweet flavor without adding as many calories as regular sugar. Manufacturers use sugar alcohol to make their products low-carb, sugar-free, and diabetes-friendly without compromising on taste.
One of the most commonly used sugar alcohols in sugar-free candy is xylitol. It has a similar taste to sugar and is often used in sugar-free chewing gum, mints, and oral care products like toothpaste. Xylitol is also the sweetest of all sugar alcohols but has about 40% fewer calories than regular sugar.
Sugar alcohol is added to sugar-free candy to make it taste sweet and delicious without adding extra calories. It also doesn’t cause cavities, which is why it’s used in sugar-free gum and mouthwash. Sugar alcohol creates a cooling sensation when used in large amounts, which works well with mint flavors commonly found in sugar-free candy.
Types Of Sugar Alcohol Used In Sugar-Free Candy
There are several types of sugar alcohols that are commonly used in sugar-free candy. One of the most popular types is xylitol, which closely mimics the taste of sugar and has about 40% fewer calories. It’s often used in sugar-free chewing gums, mints, and oral care products like toothpaste.
Another type of sugar alcohol is sorbitol, which is about 60% as sweet as sugar and has a similar texture. It’s commonly used in sugar-free hard candies and chewing gum.
Maltitol is another type of sugar alcohol that’s about 75% as sweet as sugar. It’s often used in sugar-free chocolate-flavored desserts, baked goods, and ice cream because it gives a creamy texture to foods.
Erythritol is a newer type of sugar alcohol that has gained popularity in recent years. It has the least impact on blood sugar levels and is often used in sugar-free products marketed towards people on low-carb or keto diets.
Other types of sugar alcohols that may be used in sugar-free candy include lactitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.
While sugar alcohols can be a useful alternative to regular sugar for people who are watching their calorie or carbohydrate intake, it’s important to be mindful of their potential side effects. Consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols can cause digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It’s also important to note that while they don’t impact blood sugar levels as dramatically as regular sugar, they still contain calories and can contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess.
Is Sugar Alcohol A Healthier Alternative To Regular Sugar?
Sugar alcohol is often touted as a healthier alternative to regular sugar. While it’s true that sugar alcohol has fewer calories and is better for dental health, it’s important to consume it in moderation. If you’re sensitive to sugar alcohols, it may be best to limit or avoid them altogether.
One of the benefits of sugar alcohol is that it doesn’t have the same negative effects as regular sugar. For example, sugar alcohol doesn’t promote tooth decay or significantly raise blood sugar levels. Additionally, sugar alcohol is considered a low glycemic index food, which means it doesn’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar.
Another benefit of sugar alcohol is that it’s lower in calories than regular sugar. This makes it a good option for those who are conscious of their caloric intake. Sugar alcohol tastes almost as sweet as regular sugar, but with about half the calories.
However, it’s important to note that not all sugar alcohols are created equal. Some occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables, while others are produced industrially. Furthermore, some sugar alcohols may contribute to a healthy digestive system by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, while others may cause digestive discomfort in some individuals.
Potential Side Effects Of Consuming Sugar Alcohol
While sugar alcohols are generally considered safe to consume, they can have potential side effects when consumed in excess. The body cannot fully digest sugar alcohols, which means they can ferment in the intestines and cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
A 2006 British study found that participants who consumed xylitol reported bloating, gas, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Erythritol appeared to have milder effects on the stomach, only increasing nausea and gas when given in large doses. However, people have varying reactions to sugar alcohols, so careful experimentation is advised.
For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sugar alcohols are one type of short-chain carbohydrate that may provoke symptoms. Polyols – another name for sugar alcohols – are included in the FODMAPs acronym, which stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. A low-FODMAP diet may help control gastrointestinal symptoms in some people with IBS.
Consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols could result in gas, diarrhea, or other digestive issues. The American Diabetes Association recommends consuming sugar alcohols in moderation and not in excess quantities. The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics advises against consuming more than 50 grams/day of sorbitol or more than 20 grams/day of mannitol to limit chances of experiencing diarrhea.
Additionally, erythritol and other sugar alcohols frequently result in more water in the intestines, causing diarrhea. Nausea and headaches may occur as well. The laxative effect the substance is known for is true of all sugar alcohols. You must consume a significant amount of erythritol to experience these effects. Generally, you have to consume more than 18 grams to experience problems.
Another potential complication of consuming sugar alcohol is overeating. Because it is not digested by the body, it may trick your brain into thinking you are still hungry. This is a somewhat ironic side effect given that the substance is commonly used in sugar-free and other “diet” foods.
Conclusion: Should You Choose Sugar-Free Candy With Sugar Alcohol?
While sugar alcohol is a popular sweetener in sugar-free candy, it’s important to consider the potential downsides before making it a regular part of your diet. While sugar alcohol has fewer calories than regular sugar and doesn’t cause the same spike in blood sugar levels, it can still have an impact on blood sugar and may cause digestive discomfort in some people.
If you’re looking to cut down on your sugar intake or manage diabetes, sugar-free candy with sugar alcohol may be a good option in moderation. However, it’s important to be aware of how much you’re consuming and to listen to your body’s reactions. If you experience digestive discomfort or notice a negative impact on your blood sugar levels, it may be best to choose a different type of sweetener or snack altogether.
Ultimately, the best choice for your health will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Sugar-free candy with sugar alcohol can be a tasty treat in moderation, but it’s important to balance it with other healthy foods and to pay attention to how your body responds.