Your ultimate guide to sugar alcohols for diabetes: what they are, how to use them, are they safe?

For people with diabetes or low carb/keto dieters, sugar alcohols can be tempting to use. Here's why and how to use them.
For people with diabetes or low carb/keto dieters, sugar alcohols can be tempting to use. Here's why and how to use them.
For people with diabetes or low carb/keto dieters, sugar alcohols can be tempting to use. Here's why and how to use them.
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Your ultimate guide to sugar alcohols for diabetes: what they are, how to use them, are they safe?

For people with diabetes or low carb/keto dieters, sugar alcohols can be tempting to use. Here's why and how to use them.

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If you are looking for a sugar substitute that has little impact on your blood sugars, then it might be time to give sugar alcohols a try.

They have about half the calories of regular sugar, and they occur naturally in many fruits like watermelon and strawberries.

Sugar alcohols can also be made man-made in labs and added to processed foods that are labeled “no sugar added” or “sugar-free.”

For people with diabetes, these substitutes can be tempting to use because they cause fewer blood sugar spikes, while still sweetening foods.

But, how do they work, are they good for your diet, and how do you use them?

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols – including Xylitol Erythritol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), Isomaltxylitol, and Maltitol – have been found to be a good substitute for sugar because they don’t spike blood sugars like other sweeteners.

Many of them don’t make you feel deprived when you’re craving something sweet, but whether it can keep you full yet to be determined.

Sugar alcohols occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but some are man-made and added to processed foods like chocolate bars or ice cream.

Are there benefits of using sugar alcohols as substitutes for regular sugar?

Sugar alcohols have been found to be a good substitute because they don’t spike blood sugars like regular sugar.

They are also generally low-calorie foods, but should still be used in moderation.

How are sugar alcohols made?

Sugar alcohols are usually extracted from natural sources like fruits or vegetables.

They can also be made synthetically, but these types of sugar alcohols tend to have more calories than their naturally sourced counterparts.

What foods contain sugar alcohols?

Lots of “no added sugar” and “low calorie” processed foods often include artificial sweeteners.

Are sugar alcohols safe?

Most sugar alcohols are safe in moderate amounts. The FDA does allow sugar alcohols in foods and allows products that contain them to include a sugar-free label.

Some sugar alcohols like sorbitol and mannitol having special labeling.

Erythritol should be avoided by people with a rare genetic disorder known as hereditary fructose intolerance or glucose-galactose malabsorption since they can’t metabolize it properly.

What are the differences between sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols have different levels of sweetness, calories, side effects (i.e., bloating), and health benefits (depending on which one you’re using).

For example, xylitol has about half the calories of regular table sugar but also may cause stomach discomfort for some individuals; where sorbitol often causes less stomach distress than other types of sugar substitutes.

Since each person has a different reaction, it’s best to use moderate amounts as you’re deciding which substitute is right for you.

What is the best type of sugar alcohol to replace white sugar with?

It really depends on you and your tastes.

Some sugar alcohols may be bitter to the palate.

Some are also sweeter than natural sugar, so they may be too sweet for a person’s preference, and you need to use less in your cooking.

Xylitol and maltitol tend to have fewer calories than other types of artificial sweeteners (like sucralose) but there is not enough research on all different kinds of sweeteners yet so it’s hard to say which one has “lesser” effects.

How much can I eat per day?

One sugar alcohol is about half as sweet as table sugar, so it will sometimes take more volume to get the same sweetness.

Experts recommend not eating more than 10-15 grams in a day (about 100 calories).

Consuming too much can result in uncomfortable side effects like stomach cramps, diarrhea, gas, and bloating.

What are the calories in sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols provide fewer than half as many calories per gram (or about one calorie) compared to regular table sugar.

It still provides sweetness to your dish. Nutrition information differs per label, so it’s best to check the kind you’d like to use.

Are there disadvantages to consuming sugar alcohol?

While most sugar alcohols are safe for consumption, some like sorbitol and maltitol have been known to cause digestive issues.

Sometimes, they can have laxative effects if not eaten in moderation.

If you’re a diabetic or on any other sort of restricted diet, it’s best to check with your doctor before using these ingredients in large amounts.

How they affect your body and teeth

Sugar alcohols aren’t yet known to cause tooth decay, or dental issues.

There are no known side effects from consuming sugar alcohols on a regular basis.

Do sugar alcohols have an aftertaste?

Some sugar alcohols can have an aftertaste, and others do not.

Sucralose is also considered a sugar alcohol but does not have any distinctive taste or flavor once consumed.

Erythritol tends to have a minty, or menthol-like feeling that some people enjoy, and some try to avoid.

The bottom line on sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols can be a healthier alternative to sugar, and they can be found in many types of food you already recognize.

However, it is important to note that not all people with diabetes will tolerate them well because some may still cause blood sugar spikes, or gastrointestinal issues.

If you have been looking for an answer as to how you can satisfy your sweet tooth without compromising on health then consider these sugar substitutes as a swap.

Always talk to your healthcare provider, or dietitian before making these changes.

Recipes using sugar substitutes

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Mila Clarke Buckley

Hi! I'm Mila.

I’m a millennial woman living with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) after a type 2 diabetes misdiagnosis.  I love food, travel and my kitchen!

Hangry Woman is for anyone with diabetes – regardless of type.

I’m here to help you live your best life possible diabetes by showing you how to create simple, blood-sugar friendly and delicious meals

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