Are Sugar Alcohols Bad For You: 3 Biggest Health Risks

The first thing which comes to mind when thinking about losing weight or getting healthy is ‘sugar is evil.’ And rightly so, many people believe in this notion.

To achieve a healthy lifestyle, many people reduce their intake of added sugars in their food and started taking a low-carb diet.  This has changed the mindset of the people towards the significant popularity of sugar substitutes, such as sugar alcohol.

Are Sugar Alcohols Bad For You?

Certain sugar alcohols are included in food by baking mixes, cereals, and ice cream. They give a sweet flavour to the food, without any adverse side effects associated with regular sugar.

But are sugar alcohols bad for you? Do you know what sugar alcohol is and if it is suitable for your blood sugar levels or not?

If not, read on to find a comprehensive guide which will answer your questions!

What’s Worse, Sugar Or Sugar Alcohol?

Many sugar alcohols come from fruits and vegetables, and most of them are artificial. Whereas regular sugar is purely natural, coming from fruits, plants, vegetables, and milk.

Unlike sugar alcohols, natural sugar gets easily digested and gives energy to the body.

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Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

They occur naturally and are sweet as sugar. Moreover, using this type of sugar is helpful because it has a low caloric value and lower glycemic index as compared to table sugar. Table sugar is also known as Sucrose.

The reasons for this distinction are:

1. Fewer Calories

Sugar alcohol has just two calories per gram, unlike sugar which has four calories per gram. They are sweet as sugar and have half the calories per gram as regular sugar. You can intake sugar-free foods made with sugar alcohol with almost no calories.

2. Blood Management

Unlike regular sugar, sugar alcohols generally don’t cause critical spikes in blood sugar levels. However, they are sweet as sugar, but consuming sugar alcohol will not impact your insulin levels.

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are neither sugar nor alcohol. Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate which have a similar chemical structure as regular sugar chemical structures.

What Are Sugar Alcohols and Are They Healthy?

Most food manufacturers use sugar alcohols to reduce the calorie content in food. Unlike sugar, sugar alcohols have about half the calories of regular sugar. But they are sweet as sugar and excite the tongue’s sweet taste buds.

Moreover, they add extra flavour to it without any extra sugar or calories. It excites the sweet taste receptors.

However, food companies now are trying to use low-calorie sweeteners to make their foods low-carb, sugar-free or diabetic-friendly.

Some sugar alcohols are produced industrially, and out of them, three sugar alcohols are widely used.

1. Xylitol

They are often used in gums and are almost sweet as sugar. It is extracted from wheat straw and some cereals, and Xylitol is usually made from birch wood.

However, most Xylitol comes from corncobs and leftover sugar cane stalks.

2. Erythritol

The sweetness of sugar Erythritol is about 60% to 80%. They are extracted from pears, soy sauce, and watermelon. You can add this to your Keto diet and low fodmap diet.

3. Malitol

They are about 50% to 70% sweet as sugar and are extracted from corn syrup.

Other sugars are isomalt which comes from beet sugar, and corn syrup. Sorbitol comes from cornstarch and some other fruits. The sweetness of sugar Isomalt and Sorbitol is about 30% to 45%.

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By Danijela Maksimovic on Shutterstock

Sorbitol and Mannitol are known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Together it is known as FODMAPs, they are short-chain carbohydrates, especially sugar.

The small intestine poorly absorbs them. After eating FODMAPs, some people experience digestive distress. The common symptoms are cramps and diarrhea.

Are Sugar Alcohols Bad For You?

Some say sugar alcohol can be a safe addition to your diet, however, there are three health effects of the consumption of sugar alcohol.

1. Gastrointestinal

The human body cannot fully digest sugar alcohol and hence can have digestive problems. You may experience GI symptoms after you eat sugar and alcohol.

An experiment in 2006 showed that people who took some doses of sugar alcohol reported bloating, gas, upset stomach, and diarrhea.

However, Erythritol, one type of sugar alcohol, only increases milder effects on the stomach and increases nausea and gas when given in large doses.

2. Increases Weight

Consuming sugar alcohol may gain you a lot of weight, and it isn’t outstanding in weight management.

3. Laxative Effect

Sugar alcohols always tend to have a laxative effect. It is more common in children and people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS).

However, instead of absorbing the sugar alcohols in the stomach, it is possible to linger between the intestines and ferment. In cases like this, the doctors also provide some types of laxatives.

Health Risks Of Sugar Alcohols

If you consume a large amount of sugar alcohol, it can result in gas, diarrhea, or other digestive issues. Sugar alcohol does not get fully absorbed by the body.

Most people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome1 (IBS) often form a short-chain type that can provoke several symptoms.

Health Benefits Of Sugar Alcohols

Many people suffer from several health issues due to added sugar to their food. Health conditions include obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So many people are trying to reduce the amount of added sugar in their foods.

Even common sugar alcohols provide fewer calories 2than regular sugar. They may be beneficial for people who are trying to lose weight. One more health benefit of consuming sugar alcohol is, it helps better blood pressure control.

Moreover, consuming sugar and alcohol will help you from tooth decay. The bacteria inside your mouth do not feed on sugar alcohol. So you will be relieved from tooth decay.

Sugar Alcohols v. Artificial Sweeteners

Both the sugar alcohols and the artificial sweeteners are manufactured in aspartame 3and saccharin. But they are not the same thing. Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that provide an intense level of sweetness and no calories.

Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes used for baking and cooking and sugar alcohols that are non-nutritive sweeteners.

One more difference between sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners is sugar alcohols cause diabetes 4issues.

Artificial sweeteners have zero carbohydrates, so they do not cause blood sugar to elevate. However, both can be useful to manage diabetes when appropriately used.

How To Identify Sugar Alcohols

The most common sugar alcohols are sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). However, these sugar alcohols are not commonly used in home food production, but they are found in many products.

Especially foods labelled as “sugar-free,” which includes cookies and chewing gums, often are made of sugar alcohols. Most toothpaste and mouthwash also contain sugar and alcohol.

Furthermore, it is also important to check the food labels for the carbs. Check the food labels for the net carbs in the food products. You also need to count the number of sugar and alcohol used for foods sweetened.

If the food manufacturers labelled sugar-free, there would be a list of ingredients and nutrition facts used.

If you are a blood sugar patient, then you must see whether the product is labelled sugar-free or not. Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates sugar alcohol and is best for blood sugar patients.

Additional Facts

Xylitol is good for humans, but it is highly toxic to dogs. By any chance, if a dog eats Xylitol, its body will consume it as regular sugar and will start producing insulin in large amounts.

If the dog’s insulin level raises high, its cells will start pulling out sugar from its bloodstream. This can be fatal. It can often lead to low blood sugar and side effects like liver failure.

However, it will not be so fatal for humans because their blood sugar level will not rise because of Xylitol5.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is sugar alcohol bad for you?

10-15 grams of sugar alcohol each day is the safe suggested intake. Sugar alcohol, like numerous other substances, should be consumed in balance. And as for what balance is, ask your medical practitioner for an accurate answer as per your health.

2. Is sugar alcohol bad as sugar?

Since sugar alcohols don’t promote tooth decay or drastically raise blood sugar levels, they lack the same adverse consequences as normal sugar.

3. Is sugar alcohol healthier than sugar?

Compared to sugars, sugar alcohols are often not as sweet and have fewer calories. They also have less impact on blood sugar levels, making them a good substitute for those with diabetes.


Most sugar alcohols are popular now because of its low calories sweeteners which you can find in many low-calorie foods and drinks.

Generally, they are well tolerated, but you may face bloating and diarrhea on consuming too much sugar alcohol. So, take care of what you put in your body, as serious repercussions might turn as fatal as life-threatening.

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  1. Camilleri, Michael. “Diagnosis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a review.” Jama 325.9 (2021): 865-877. ↩︎
  2. Duregon, Eleonora, et al. “Intermittent fasting: from calories to time restriction.” Geroscience 43 (2021): 1083-1092. ↩︎
  3. Stegink, Lewis D. “Aspartame metabolism in humans: acute dosing studies.” Aspartame. CRC Press, 2020. 509-553. ↩︎
  4. Care, Diabetes. “Care in diabetes—2022.” Diabetes care 45 (2022): S17. ↩︎
  5. Gasmi Benahmed, Asma, et al. “Health benefits of xylitol.” Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 104.17 (2020): 7225-7237. ↩︎

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