top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Dooreck with Gurpinder Bahia

Sugar vs. Sugar Alcohols

If you're health-conscious, you are probably an expert at reading product labels. But what about food that contains sugar alcohols as a sweetener? Sugar has become inextricably linked to our nutrition and way of life. The decision to consume sugar regularly is increasingly in your hands.

"I hope to add real value to social media and share what my patients ask me about." — Dr. Dooreck

Gut Health ➕ Patient Advocacy with Navigation ➕ Life Balance


If you were looking for information about Private Healthcare Navigation and Patient Advocacy from Executive Health Navigation

Having served as doctors for over a decade, we help Family Offices, Private Individuals, Registered Investment Advisors, High-Net-Worth Advisors, and C-Suites navigate the healthcare system for their select clients/families, providing privacy and discretion.

Private Healthcare Navigation and Patient Advocacy when YOU need it most


Sugar alcohols are a type of alternative carbohydrate that can cause symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

What is sugar alcohol?

Sugar alcohols are often used as a sugar substitute in many products, especially those branded as "sugar-free" or "no sugar added." This ingredient is found in fruits and vegetables; others are in reduced-sugar products.

How does sugar alcohol differ from sugar?

Sugar and sugar alcohols contrast significantly regarding calories, sugar levels, and digestion.

While sugar causes tooth decay, sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol help prevent it.

For this reason, sugar alcohol is used in toothpaste and sugar-free gum. Learn more about added sugar in this blog post.

How does my body digest sugar alcohols?

Sugars are digested in the intestine and then transferred to the bloodstream, where they are processed or utilized for energy. Sugar alcohols, on the other hand, are poorly digested by your body. This can induce bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea at higher ingestion levels since they are not fully absorbed by the body and are fermented by bacteria in the colon.

Moderate dosages of 10 to 15 grams of sugar alcohol daily are tolerated. Since sugar alcohols are not intensively absorbed like sugar, they impact your blood sugar levels less.

Where are sugar alcohols found?

Products containing sugar alcohols, sorbitol, or mannitol must be labeled with a warning stating, "Excess consumptions may have a laxative effect." Besides identifying labels, the sugar-free and reduced-sugar products include:

  • Chewing gum

  • Flavored jam and jelly

  • Desserts

  • Sweets

  • Baked goods

Calculating sugar alcohols

In this example, the total carbohydrate per saving will be 13 grams—half the carbohydrate in the sugar alcohol.

One-half of the sugar in the sugar alcohol per serving is:

6g CHO ÷ 2 = 3 grams of CHO

Total carbohydrate per serving is:

13 grams - 3 grams for the sugar alcohol = 10 grams

When counting carbs, calculate half of the sugar from the sugar alcohol.

Typical ingredients of sugar alcohols include:


Sorbitol has an excellent taste. This sugar alcohol has 60% of the sweetness of sugar but just 60% of the calories. It's also popular in sugar-free snacks and fruits, such as apples and soft sweets. Although sorbitol has a minor influence on blood sugar and insulin levels, it can induce stomach problems later.


Erythritol is another sugar alcohol that is thought to have a rich flavor. Since erythritol does not reach your large intestine considerably, it does not have the same digestive adverse effects as most other sugar alcohols. This sugar alcohol is made by fermenting glucose in cornstarch, and it is 70% sweeter than sugar but only has 5% of the calories.


Maltitol is made from sugar maltose and has a flavor and texture related to ordinary sugar. This sugar alcohol has 90% of the sweetness of sugar but only half of the calories. If you have diabetes, be cautious of low-carb foods sweetened with maltitol and closely monitor your blood sugar levels. Maltitol can be found in ice cream, chewing gum, and desserts.

Other sugar alcohols

Other sugar alcohols in sugar-free foods are hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), mannitol, xylitol, and isomalt.

Check out this video from TED-Ed, “How sugar affects the brain.”


Here are a few tips to reduce the refined sugars in diets:

  • If you use a sweetener, consider a sugar substitute like stevia or a mixture of sugar and stevia.

  • Load up on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, lean proteins, seafood, nuts and seeds.

  • Skip or reduce the soda, energy drinks, sweet teas, and fruit juice intake.

  • Use whole fruit as a sweetener. Add a mashed banana to oatmeal, or blend dates into a smoothie.

  • Read the nutrition facts label on food packages and avoid “healthy” foods with added sugar, like granola or energy bars.

"Balance. Portion control. Keep nutrition simple. Eat Smart. Eat Healthy. 🌱 🌾 🌿"

Gut Health ➕ Patient Advocacy with Navigation ➕ Life Balance

If you were looking for information about Private Healthcare Navigation and Patient Advocacy from Executive Health Navigation

Connect with Dr. Dooreck on LinkedIn, where he shares information on Health, Diet, Nutrition, Exercise, Lifestyle, and Balance.


gastroenterology | colonoscopy doctor | colonoscopy and gastroenterology services | gastro doctor | gi doctor | gastrointestinal diagnostic centers | public health


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page