Many of us find ourselves searching for the healthiest snack when we go grocery shopping, opting for the "sugar-free" or "no sugar added" treats. However, when checking the ingredients on the back, there's often an ingredient listed called "sugar alcohol." But what the heck is sugar alcohol?
What is it?
Sugar alcohol is a type of reduced-calorie sweetener often found in chewing gums, protein bars, puddings, etc. Despite "alcohol" being part of the name, sugar alcohol does not contain any ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.
While found naturally in some fruits and vegetables, most sugar alcohols are produced industrially, where they are processed from other sugars, including the glucose in cornstarch. Common sugar alcohols include mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt and maltitol.
What does it taste like?
While being a carbohydrate, sugar alcohol has a similar chemical structure to sugar, so it is able to activate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue. However, most sugar alcohols are less sweet than sugar.
Is it good for you?
Sugar alcohol is growing in popularity as a sugar replacement because they contain fewer calories than sugar. Additionally, unlike sugar, sugar alcohols do not promote tooth decay or cause a sudden increase in blood glucose.
However, sugar alcohols are not absorbed well in the body and may even have a small laxative effect if consumed in excess. Additionally, when considering any foods with reduced-calorie sweeteners, it is important to always check the nutrition facts on the label. While something might contain less sugar, there could be a significant amount of carbohydrates, calories and fat.