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How to Count Sugar Alcohols

How to Count Sugar Alcohols
How to Count Sugar Alcohols

Recently, I have had several clients ask me about sugar alcohols, or “sugar liquors.” This is likely thanks to our ever expanding selection of low-carb and low-calorie foods. So, what are sugar alcohols? They’re a lower-calorie sweetener used as a food ingredient. Sugar alcohols have about half the calories of sugar and so they don’t cause as much of a rise in glucose.

Where are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are often found in foods advertised as having “no added sugar” or as “sugar free.” These items may include baked products, syrups, energy bars, ice cream, and candy and gum. Some of the commonly used sugar alcohols are isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and erythritol.

Sugar alcohols are not to be confused with sugar substitutes such as Splenda®, Equal®, and Sweet’N Low®, which are very low in calories and generally considered to be a free food. Sugar substitutes and sugar alcohols are often used together in food products.

How To Count Sugar Alcohols in Your Diet

Sugar alcohols may be listed on a food product’s Nutrition Facts label underneath Total Carbohydrates. If a food contains more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols, The American Diabetes Association recommends subtracting one half of the total amount of sugar alcohols from the total amount of carbohydrates. For example, say a product contains 18 grams of total carbohydrates, and 6 grams of that are sugar alcohols; you can subtract 3 grams from the total carbohydrates and count the remaining 15 grams of carb in your meal plan (18-3 =15).

The Side Effects

Everyone seems to digest sugar alcohols differently. Some people don’t have any problems with them, while others say they have a very definite laxative effect. If you are just starting to eat foods containing sugar alcohols, my advice is to choose products that only contain 10 grams or less of these sweeteners per serving.


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