Sugar alcohols can be a useful tool in promoting weight loss. These sugar substitutes can be found in a variety of store-bought goods that are often labeled as "sugar-free" or "no sugar added." While sugar alcohols do contain calories, they can be a smart alternative to real sugar, which contains more calories.
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Sugar Alcohol Basics
The American Diabetes Association notes that you can find sugar alcohols in foods such as ice cream, pudding and cookies. You can identify them by reading ingredient labels. Examples include erythritol, glycerol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. Although it may sound counterintuitive, sugar alcohols do not actually contain alcohol. One of the advantages of sugar alcohols is that they are converted into glucose more slowly, which can help you avoid spikes in blood sugar. The association notes that these sweeteners are useful for people attempting to lose weight or prevent weight gain.
Fewer Calories, More Weight Loss
Most sugar alcohols are not quite as sweet as sugar, but they make up for their lack of sweetness with a much smaller calorie count. Yale New Haven Hospital notes that sugar alcohols contain between 1.5 and 3 calories per gram, whereas sugar contains 4 calories per gram. According to the University of California, San Francisco, Diabetes Education Online, for accounting purposes, you can round all sugar alcohols to an average of 2 calories per gram. For carbohydrate-counting purposes, you can simply divide the total sugar alcohols by two and subtract the result from total carbohydrates -- which will leave you with your adjusted carb count.
Sugar Alcohols for Low-Carb Diets
By substituting some of the sugar you would normally consume with sugar alcohols, you can lower your total carbohydrate intake. This can be an effective way to lose weight. The low-carbohydrate Atkins diet program notes that sugar alcohols are an acceptable food. Low-carbohydrate diets can be an effective alternative to low-fat diets, according to a study published in 2004 in the "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism." The study concluded that restricting carbohydrates is just as effective as restricting fats for weight loss and body fat reduction.
Considerations and Upper Limits
There is one major potential disadvantage to sugar alcohols. The reason these alternative sweeteners contain fewer calories than sugar is that they are only partially absorbed by the body. This partial absorption makes them more likely to cause intestinal issues, however. The American Diabetes Association notes that sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect and can cause gastric symptoms in some people. But these effects are most common when sugar alcohols are consumed excessive amounts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest notes that 50 grams of sorbitol or 20 grams of mannitol could cause laxative effects, including gas, bloating and diarrhea. The Atkins website notes that most people can handle between 20 and 30 grams of sugar alcohols per day.
- American Diabetes Association: Sugar Alcohols
- Yale New Haven Hospital: Eat Any Sugar Alcohol Lately?
- UCSF Diabetes Association Online: Counting Sugar Alcohols
- Atkins: Ask the Nutritionist: The Scoop on Sugar Alcohols
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: Comparison of a Low-fat Diet to a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Weight Loss, Body Composition, and Risk Factors for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in Free-Living, Overweight Men and Women
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Sweet Nothings -- Not All Sweeteners Are Equal