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What Are Sugar Alcohols?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Q. I found some sugar-free syrup at the grocery store. A serving contains 10 gm carbs, 0 gm sugar, 10gm sugar alcohol. What does that mean? What is sugar alcohol?

A. Ironically, "sugar alcohols" contain neither sugar nor alcohol--at least, not the intoxicating kind. There are lots of different sugar alcohols and they all end in -ol. Maltitol, xylitol, and sorbitol, are some of the more common ones.

Although they taste sweet, sugar alcohols are lower in calories than regular sugar and they don't affect blood sugar levels. You'll often find them in sugar-free products or foods made for diabetics.  In small quantities, sugar alcohols are perfectly safe. But if you overdo it, they can cause temporary but unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea. A newer sugar alcohol called erythritol is supposed to cause less digestive trouble than some of the others.

Maple Syrup image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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