What Are Sugar Alcohols And Do They Impact Blood Sugar Levels

A sugar alcohol is a type of carbohydrate that is not completely absorbed by the body, and thus is supposed to have a minimal impact on blood sugar.  This would also be similar to fiber, which is another type of carbohydrate that we don’t digest and that passes through the digestive tract into the colon without being absorbed.

They picked up the name sugar + alcohol, because they partially resemble the chemical structure of sugar, but interestingly their structure also has a part that resembles alcohol.

As a result of their properties, food manufactures began widely using sugar alcohols as sweeteners in their products.

The basis for this was if the sweetener wasn’t being absorbed by the body, then it didn’t have any impact on insulin release or blood sugar levels.

And since blood glucose isn’t being impacted like it would from sugar, and the ‘ingredient’ does not have the same chemical structure as sugar, these sweeteners can be used to call the food sugar-free or say that no sugar has been added.

Netting Carbohydrates

This also became wonderfully convenient for the concept of netting carbs – and the promoting of different food products as being low-carb, by subtracting the carbohydrates that do have an impact on blood sugar.  So, if a product had 20 total carbs, but 12 of these were sugar alcohol, then the net impact was that of 8 carbs.

This is from the Atkins website, and the group that formalized a limited carbohydrate weight loss program:

In the case of most foods, Net Carbs are calculated by subtracting the number of grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrates. This reflects the fact that fiber doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. Moreover, in the case if low-carb products that contain glycerin and other sugar alcohols (also known as polyols), which also have a negligible impact on blood sugar, they too are subtracted from total carbs to yield the Net Carb count.

So, I am looking at a chocolate chip granola bar that can be used as a meal replacement bar – it has only 3 grams of net carbs after subtracting 6 grams of dietary fiber and 9 grams of sugar alcohol.

And I won’t get started on my protein bar ingredients to avoid list, and the nutritional content of the soy protein, palm kernel oil, wheat, and artificial flavoring.

What Are The Impacts From Sugar Alcohols

I have found that sugar alcohols can have an impact on both the digestive system and on blood sugar levels – and the effect on digestion is one that I know firsthand very well.

Sugar Alcohols And Digestion

Earlier in my natural nutritional health lifestyle journey, I had gotten to a point where I was happy with my fitness level and weight – but I had around 7 few pounds and some fat that I just couldn’t get rid of.

I knew [thought] I was eating well, with plenty of lean protein from fish and chicken, carbs predominantly limited to fruits and mostly vegetables, and very healthy fats.  But it didn’t seem to matter how much I worked out, and I really couldn’t cut back too much more on calories – my weight remained essentially the same.

Besides my regular meals, I was also eating a couple of protein bars a day that had 22 calories each, with 6 grans if carbohydrates.  I was drinking plenty of water, but to get some extra fluid each day that also had some flavor and electrolytes; I was drinking 3-4 bottles of Powderade Zero.  And by mid-day most every day, I felt pretty bloated and had extra gas.

I figured it was the extra fluids and all of the greens, so I tried drinking less water and eating less of the greens – but the stomach problems became increasingly uncomfortable.

Well, it turns out that the protein bars appeared to have so few carbohydrates, because they had 12 grams of Maltitol.  And the way the Powderade had no calories was by sweetening it with sucralose, which is what is in Splenda.

It was easy to go from there, and learn about sugar alcohols and the digestion problems they can cause.  I stopped with all of the different artificial sweeteners, and threw the rest of the protein bars away – almost immediately I got rid of all of the stomach problems, and also was able to add my greens back with no issues.

And within 3 weeks, I lost 10 pounds on the same basic diet and workout schedule.

Sugar Alcohols And Blood Sugar

When looking at the impact that the different sugar alcohols may have on blood sugar and glucose levels, there are 2 important points to consider:  (1) there can be a big difference between minimal or reduced impact on blood sugar and no impact (2) if sugar alcohols did have no impact on blood glucose, then why don’t they have a glycemic index of zero.

The chart below, which was compiled from work done by Geoffrey Livesey in study sugar alcohols – should answer the question about whether there is any impact on blood sugar.

When looking at the impact that the different sugar alcohols may have on blood sugar and glucose levels, there are 2 important points to consider:  (1) there can be a big difference between minimal or reduced impact on blood sugar and no impact (2) if sugar alcohols did have no impact on blood glucose, then why don’t they have a glycemic index of zero.

The chart below, which was compiled from work done by Geoffrey Livesey in study sugar alcohols – should clearly point out the issue with whether there is any impact on blood sugar.

That Atkins Food Bar that I mentioned above has 9 grams of maltitol, and they have products with as much as 15 grams of this sugar alchohol or 19 grams of maltitol syrup – but still show net carbs of 2-3 grams.

You can see that sugar is what all carbohydrates would be compared to – it is regarded as 100% sweetness, with a glycemic index of 60, and is 4 calories per gram.  In comparison, Maltitol Syrup is 75% the sweetness of sugar, with a glycemic index of 52, and 3 calories per gram; maltitol is similar to this.

There is a wide range of GI and calories per gram in the different sugar alcohols.  But especially in the case of maltitol syrup and maltitol, which is one of the most widely used in food bars, you are within 75% of ingesting sugar – and there is just no way that can be said to have so little impact on blood sugar levels that it can be netted against the total carbohydrate number as if it isn’t in the product.

I found out that my stomach and digestion problems, along with hitting a plateau in weight and fat loss, are quite common among people using the different artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes.  And certainly, the insulin and blood sugar level increases are very important to be recognized by people with diabetes, and think they are buying low-carb foods.

So, always check for whether there are any sugar alcohols in any low-carb products you are going to eat – because depending on the type, it can have a considerable impact on blood glucose.

And if you do want a low-carb raw protein bar that is 100% natural, so it has no sugar alcohols are artificial sweeteners to be concerned with – take a look at this Low Carb Café Mocha Bar; you can see the nutrient label below.  I eat them all the time, and also think they are very good tasting too.

 

Article by Barry