Sounds intoxicating, but a sugar alcohol is neither a sugar nor an alcohol just a chemically structured man made hybrid of the two. A deceiving name that shows up on the food label with a strange chemical sounding word ending in (-ol). Ever heard of xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, glycol, glycerol, dulcitol, lactitol or maltitol? These sugar alcohols are used in foods to replace sucrose (table sugar). The most popular sweetener is xylitol and the most dangerously toxic, found in antifreeze, is ethylene glycol. Sugar alcohols are usually used to mask the intense sweetness of sugar substitutes. They are used because they are sweet but do not have as much energy (aka calories) as sugar does. In addition to the sweetness of sugar alcohols some also present a cooling sensation which is desirable in foods such as sugar-free hard candy and gum. Sugar alcohols can also be found in sugar free soft drinks, candies, cookies, pancake syrup, cake frosting's, canned fruit, yogurt, and fruit spreads. Some sugar alcohols can be found naturally occurring in foods such as pears, melons, mushrooms, grapes, some cheeses and soy sauce but the amount is very small compared to the man made food additive versions found in processed foods.
Are there benefits of sugar alcohol's?
Advocates of sugar alcohols would say the benefits of them include:
1. Provides sweetness in foods with half of the calories.
2. They are not metabolized by oral bacteria and therefore do not cause tooth decay.
3. Basically, they are not absorbed by the body. The downside is this could cause diarrhea if too much is consumed.
The FDA considers them safe and they are a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) food. Sugar alcohols are geared more for a population that is diabetic. As our community faces the childhood obesity epidemic with health effects such as diabetes and heart disease these products will find their ways into the foods of our children more and more. It is important to understand what they are and where they come from in order to make an informed decision on whether or not your child should consume them.