Sugar substitutes: Sugar alcohols like xylitol & maltitol

Working my way through the sugar sweeteners, I thought I would talk about sugar alcohols a little more in depth. It’s good to just get your head around these so if you spot them on a ‘sugar-free’ product, you’ll know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for.

Known as ‘Polyols’ they have a chemical structure that resembles sugar and alcohol, but at the same time they aren’t really either. They occur naturally in plants, berries and oats, but as with all of these types of ‘natural’ sweeteners, they are manufactured for commercial use in a lab, so essentially they are still processed.

Pros & Cons

The benefits of these sweeteners are that they are lower in calories than sugar and don’t spike your blood sugar (lower glycemic index). This is essentially because they are not completely absorbed by the body (the gut). Unfortunately, this means they can ferment in the intestines and cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, and even nausea.

These side effects can be triggered from consumption depending on the amount you’ve ingested and the strength of your digestive system. Thus, if you suffer from any types of digestive issues like IBS, Crohn’s or colitis, it’s probably best to steer clear of these.


Different sugar alcohols


Xylitol is quite widely available in various forms for baking and you can buy xylitol-sweetened chocolate. This sugar alcohol does have some associated health benefits where it can help mineralise tooth enamel (i.e. protect your teeth) and may increase the absorption of b-vitamins & calcium. It’s the best one out of all of them. Still, remember the cons and don’t go mad on it. The scientific world is still trying to understand the long term effects, so I would use it only on occasion very moderately.

As always though, it’s not addressing the root problem, so continue to concentrate on changing your palate preference to sweet.

I used xylitol chocolate at one point to help the phase where I still needed a little chocolate everyday, but I don’t bother eating xylitol really at all now. I didn’t have a problem with it digestive-wise but I was only eating just a square or two at a time.


is anything from 75-90% as sweet as sugar. It spikes the blood sugar more than xylitol and has much more of a debate regarding how safe it actually is regarding your health, so this one is even more of a grey area. I’ve had few people get excited to show me a ‘sugar-free’ chocolate bar they’ve found and I usually find this is the culprit sweetener. It’s extremely common in the US and Canada and I know big brands like Nestle use it. I would generally avoid this one and categorise it as an artificial sweetener.

Other sugar alcohols to look out for on labels:

  • Sorbitol

  • Isomalt

  • Mannitol

  • Eyrthritol

Have  you tried any products with sugar alcohols? What do you think of them? Please share your comments and thoughts if you do so feel inclined!


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  1. […] this cake I’ve used xylitol. I’ve written about xylitol here but I’ve used this sugar substitute […]

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