Sorbitol, also called glucitol, is a sugar-alcohol that is present in a wide variety of foods. Sorbitol is about 60 percent as sweet as sucrose and has a characteristic texture. Its flavor is similar to that of sucrose but it lacks the aftertaste of most other sugars. Sorbitol is found in a variety of natural fruits. Manufactured sorbitol is commonly used as a sweetener and emulsifier in a variety of food products. Though sorbitol is generally considered to be safe, large amounts of it may cause diarrhea.
Sorbitol was first discovered in its naturally occurring form in 1872 and is in a variety of fruits and berries. Common fruits which contain this sugar are the stone fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, apricots and cherries. High quantities of Sorbitol are also found in dry fruits such as prunes, raisins and figs. Sorbitol in these fruits is often associated with gas formation and aggravation of irritable bowel syndrome.
Sorbitol is now made chemically from corn syrup and is in a variety of foods. Because it contains one-third the calories found in glucose, it is widely present in a variety of diet drinks and foods. Sorbitol is found in puddings, pancake-mix, cookies, oatmeal, and a variety of other foods. Foods products labeled as "containing no sugar" or "lite" frequently contain sorbitol as an artificial sweetener. A number of health and nutrition bars also advertised for diabetics also contain quantities of sorbitol.
Sorbitol is widely found in a variety of chewing gums and candies. Sorbitol is especially common in a number of 'sugar-free' variants of candies and and gums. Sugar-free versions of Altoids and Lifesavers also contain sorbitol. Sorbitol is especially useful in this regard as it does not cause tooth decay. Candies such as Brach’s Star Brites, Life Savers, peppermint drops; Cary’s Maple Syrup; Simply Sugar Free Chocolate & Vanilla Caramels, Fruit Taffy Whips, and Coffee Toffee are reported to have larger quantities of the sugar, with more than 10 grams per serving size.
Sorbitol may be used as a laxative. Because it is slowly digested by the intestine, it tends to linger and draw water into the interior of the gut. This increased liquidity can facilitate the passage of stools. Sorbitol is also in many medicines for children, where it helps to make them more palatable for consumption.
- Calorie Control Council: Sorbitol; 8/20/11
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gas in the Digestive Tract; 8/20/11
- Yale New Haven Hospital:Eat Any Sugar Alcohol Lately?
- Center for Science in the Public Interest; Consumer Group Petitions FDA to Require "Diarrhea" Notice on Foods that Contain Sorbitol