I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
Imagine seeing a listing for a “jumbo shrimp cocktail” on a menu for the first time. You might think it’s a huge drink made from shrimp based on the definition of each word. But anyone who has ever enjoyed this special appetizer of chilled shrimp and a horseradish-based sauce knows it’s not!
Similar confusion arises when people see the term “sugar alcohol” for the first time. Some think it’s a sweet alcoholic beverage but in fact it’s another sugar substitute.
Explaining the difference between two types of sugar substitutes – sugar alcohols and sucralose (the sweetening ingredient in SPLENDA® Sweeteners) – is what this blog is all about.
What is a Sugar Alcohol?
The best way to define a “sugar alcohol” is to tell you what it is not.
A sugar alcohol is not a sugar like sucrose or glucose and it is not alcohol like the type found in beer, wine and whiskey. Sugar alcohols include erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt, and mannitol, and they are carbohydrates with a structure that partially resembles sugar and partially resembles alcohol. They are also known as polyols and occur naturally in many foods, including apples, watermelon and mushrooms.
Sugar alcohols, or polyols, taste sweet, but are not as sweet as sugar. They also have fewer calories per gram than sugar and are used in a variety of reduced-calorie and sugar-free foods. One of the best qualities of sugar alcohols is that they do not contribute to the formation of cavities so they are used in place of sugars in products like chewing gum, toothpaste and mouthwash.
How are Sugar Alcohols Different from Sucralose?
If you compare sugar alcohols to sucralose (SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener), you will find that there are many differences even though they are both classified as sugar substitutes. One difference between sucralose and sugar alcohols is that sucralose alone has no impact on blood glucose and insulin levels. Like other no-calorie tabletop sweeteners, the sucralose-based sweeteners you buy at the store contain small amounts of carbohydrate (less than 1 gram per serving) that provide needed volume and texture. These common food ingredients, which include maltodextrin and/or dextrose, add minimal carbohydrate and sugar per serving.
In contrast, sugar alcohols are considered a type of carbohydrate and sufficient intake could have an impact on blood glucose levels. Sugar alcohols also should be considered in carbohydrate counting. You can get good advice on sugar alcohols and how to factor them into the total carbohydrate content listed on food labels by reviewing Hope Warshaw’s blog Reading Nutrition Labels for Total Carbohydrate.
Another important distinction to note when comparing sucralose to sugar alcohols has to do with gastrointestinal disturbances. Research shows that sucralose has no side effects. Sugar alcohols are different. They have the potential to cause a laxative effect when consumed in excess and can be an unsuspected cause of cramps and gas for anyone consuming large amounts of products like sugar-free gum, candies or desserts made with polyols. That can be especially troublesome for children and people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
To see the differences between sugar alcohols and SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (sucralose), just use the handy chart below.
*Note: Other ingredients with which they are combined may have an effect.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.
For more information about sugar substitutes, visit the Sugar Substitutes section of this blog.