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Sugar Alcohols and How They Might Fit Into Your Diabetes Meal Plan

Another Benefit of Reading Food Label Ingredients


Updated June 20, 2014

Sugar Alcohols and How They Might Fit Into Your Diabetes Meal Plan

Sugar-free jellybeans

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Sugar alcohols (also called polyols) are a staple in the diets of many people with diabetes without them knowing it. Sugar alcohols add sweetness to foods such as sugar-free candy, chewing gum or cookies and are commonly used in foods targeted to those with diabetes.

One of the main reasons sugar alcohols are used in foods created for people with diabetes is that they are slowly absorbed into the body and only partially metabolized. As a result, fewer calories are taken in as the body quickly converts sugar alcohol to energy. This incomplete absorption doesn’t usually raise blood sugar as much as a typical carbohydrate. Though sugar alcohols are considered a carbohydrate they are sometimes combined with other ingredients in a product that may raise blood sugar. So it is important to carefully read the food label for the total number of carbohydrates number per serving to ensure that you are staying within your designed meal plan.

Types of Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are derived naturally from fruits and vegetables and then processed into a wide variety of foods. In addition to adding sweetness, it adds texture and helps retain moisture.

You can determine if a food has one or more sugar alcohols by checking the product’s ingredients on the packaging food label. The most common sugar alcohols include:

  • Sorbitol
  • Mannitol
  • Xylitol
  • Maltitol
  • Lactitol
  • Erythritol

Most sugar alcohols are less sweet than table sugar (sucrose), but maltitol and xylitol rival sucrose in their degree of sweetness.

Pros and Cons

Because sugar alcohols are only partially digested, they can cause abdominal gas and discomfort in some people. Consuming too much food that contains sugar alcohol can have a laxative effect. But consumed in smaller quantities the use of sugar alcohol may have a role in helping to manage both weight and glucose.


Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2004; 104:256. Accessed July 16, 2009. http://www.eatright.org/ada/files/Nutritivenp.pdf

Sugar Alcohol Fact Sheet. International Food Information Council. Accessed July 16, 2009. http://www.ific.org/publications/factsheets/sugaralcoholfs.cfm

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