Sugar alcohol is a type of sugar replacement that is often found in cookies, gum, drinks and sugar-free candy. Despite its name, sugar alcohol is not actually alcohol in the liquor and wine sense, nor is it actually sugar. Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate that is used to sweeten food. Sugar alcohols can come from both natural and manufactured sources. It is found naturally in plants but more commonly is manufactured from starches and sugars. There are eight different types of sugar alcohols, which are listed below:
- Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates
The main reason that manufacturers use sugar alcohols is because they have half the calories of regular sugar. That is why you will often see them in diet-friendly food. Sugar alcohols are also safe for diabetics because they require little to no insulin to be metabolized.
The United States Food and Drug Administration only classifies sugar alcohols as "generally recognized as safe" and is only approved to be used as a food additive. This is because sugar alcohols can cause a list of side effects. Most common side effects include bloating, diarrhea, gas and additional gastrointestinal issues.
Other Types of Carbohydrates
There are numerous other carbohydrates in foods. Carbohydrates help sweeten foods, provide the body with energy, and roughage. The other types of carbohydrates include simple sugars, complex carbohydrates and fiber.
Simple sugars are carbohydrates that typically are used to sweeten foods. They occur both naturally or can be added to foods. They provide the body with energy. Simple sugars are found naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk. Simple sugar additives include molasses, honey, white sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar and corn syrup.
Complex carbohydrates are chains of simple sugars. These also supply the body with energy. You find complex carbohydrates in potatoes, rice, legumes, breads, cereals and pastas.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be completely digested. Fiber adds bulk to the diet and helps promote healthy digestion. It has also been shown to reduce certain healthy conditions, including heart disease and cholesterol. Fiber can be found in nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables and whole grains.
Sugar Alcohols vs. Other Carbohydrates
Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugar. It provides sweetness while being diet friendly. Furthermore, sugar alcohols are safe for diabetics. While sugar alcohols can be diet friendly, they are still considered a carbohydrate. If counting carbohydrates, sugar alcohols still count. Be sure to check the total carbohydrates of the item. Sugar alcohols also affect the overall calorie content of an item, similar to other types of carbohydrates.
Sugar alcohols can be helpful in reducing calorie intake, but dieters should focus on following a diet that is rich with natural carbohydrates and sweeteners like those that are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and only eat foods that contain sugar alcohols in moderation.