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What Are Sugar Alcohols?

The sugar alcohols commonly found in foods are sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates. Sugar alcohols come from plant products such as fruits and berries. The carbohydrate in these plant products is altered through a chemical process. These sugar substitutes provide somewhat fewer calories than table sugar (sucrose), mainly because they are not well absorbed and may even have a small laxative effect.

Many so-called "dietetic" foods that are labeled "sugar free" or "no sugar added" in fact contain sugar alcohols. People with diabetes MISTAKENLY think that foods labeled as "sugar free" or "no sugar added" will have no effect on their blood glucose. Foods containing these sugar alcohols need to have their calorie and carbohydrate contents accounted for in your overall meal plan, as it is carbohydrate that raises blood glucose levels. Since many people typically overeat "sugar free" or "no sugar added" foods, their blood glucose may be significantly elevated.

So the next time you pick up a dietetic food labeled "sugar free" be sure to check the label to see if these sugar alcohols are listed. Most importantly, be sure to check what the total carbohydrate content is per serving of any food, and incorporate that carbohydrate in your overall meal plan. If the product contains any total carb grams, it may likely come from sugar alcohols.

Find more information about nutrition and diabetes in Staying Healthy with Diabetes – Nutrition & Meal Planning available from the Joslin Online Store.

Page last updated: October 01, 2014