Many chewing gums are made with sugar alcohols, a type of sweetener that is used in place of sugar. Since sugar alcohols contain fewer calories per gram compared to sugar, these may assist you with weight-loss efforts. Sugar alcohols are also better for dental health since they do not promote cavities. However, you may find that consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols through chewing gum or other foods can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Sugar alcohols are not sweeter than sugar, but they do contain fewer calories. They are used as ingredients in a variety of foods, including chocolate, candy, fruit spreads, dessert products, and chewing gum. Common sugar alcohols used in food processing include lactitol, mannitol, xylitol, and sorbitol. You are most likely to find xylitol and sorbitol as the ingredients in chewing gum. Sometimes, they are combined with other artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame or sucralose, to enhance sweetness.
Gastrointestinal Side Effects
Sugar alcohols are not fully absorbed in your intestinal system. Smaller doses can cause gastrointestinal systems such as gas, bloating and cramps. These symptoms are often dose dependent, meaning that the more you consume, the more likely you are to experience such symptoms and experience more severe symptoms. Sugar alcohols cause an osmotic effect when they reach the intestines, causing an influx of water into the intestines and leading to diarrhea.
According to a 2007 study published in the "British Medical Journal," symptoms of gas and bloating may occur with consumption of as little as 5 grams of certain sugar alcohols. Osmotic diarrhea can occur with ingestion of 20 to 50 grams. However, some sensitive individuals may experience diarrhea from as little as 10 grams. Chewing gum generally contains 1 to 2 grams of sugar alcohols per piece. This means that chewing just a few pieces of gum throughout the day may cause symptoms, depending on the amount of sugar alcohol in the gum and your sensitivity to the particular ingredient.
If you are experiencing gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea and think it may be due to sugar alcohols, be sure to consult your physician. You may need to eliminate these products or reduce the amount you are consuming. Check the labels on your chewing gum to see if it contains a sugar alcohol. It may state a specific ingredient, such as sorbitol or xylitol, or it may simply list "sugar alcohol."