Isomalt and xylitol are two of the common sugar alcohols found in sugar-free products, along with sorbitol, mannitol and maltitol. Sugar alcohols contain fewer calories than regular sugar and do not raise your blood sugar levels as much as traditional sweeteners. Consumed in large amounts, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect, and some sensitive individuals can actually experience diarrhea even when ingesting a very small amount of isomalt or xylitol. Always consult your doctor if your diarrhea does not resolve within a couple of days.
The reason why sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than regular sugar is because they are not completely absorbed at the intestinal level. If you have a significant amount of isomalt or xylitol at once, the unabsorbed sugar alcohols in your gastrointestinal tract will be fermented by the bacteria in your intestines and will put large some water out of your body into your gastrointestinal tract. All that fermentation and extra water explain the laxative effect of sugar alcohols when consumed in large quantities. However, most people need to eat a significant amount of sugar alcohol to experience diarrhea. If you only had very small amounts or traces of isomalt or xylitol and have diarrhea, you might have a malabsorption condition.
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Polyol is an umbrella term for all sugar alcohols, including xylitol and isomalt. If you are especially sensitive to sugar polyols, you might experience not only diarrhea, but also abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence when eating even very small amounts of isomalt and xylitol, or other sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol and maltitol. If you suspect you have food intolerances, consult your doctor or a registered dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal health to help you figure it out.
Isomalt, Xylitol and Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols such as isomalt and xylitol are added to a variety of products labeled sugar-free. You can find these sweeteners in sugar-free gums, sugar-free mints, sugar-free chocolate bars, sugar-free cookies and sugar-free ice creams. Whenever in doubt, you should always read the ingredient list carefully to make sure you keep these polyols out of your diet to prevent further gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea.
Other Polyol-Containing Foods
If you react to sugar alcohols, you might also react to some fruits and vegetables that naturally contain small amounts of polyols. For example, sorbitol is found in apples, pears, blackberries, avocadoes, cherries and fruit juices, and mannitol is found in cauliflower, mushrooms, watermelon, celery and sweet potatoes. If your diarrhea does not resolve itself even after eliminating xylitol and isomalt, keep a food diary to track your food intake and symptoms, and help you figure out the cause of your diarrhea. Consult a health professional if you do not see any improvements.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.