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What are sugar alcohols?

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar has taken a mainstage in recent health and fitness circles as we continually search for the perfect balance in diet and nutrition.

Refined, white sugar is a clear no when maintaining a strong physique, so most protein bars, drinks and powders have switched to sugar alcohols. To truly maintain a holistic lifestyle, we must know what we are putting into our bodies and understand that not all healthy foods are created equal.

In the realm of science and research, sugar alcohols are relatively new and therefore studies continue to be done and long-term effects are not certain. Though they seem to be fairly safe, there are disturbances to the digestive tract and gut bacteria because the body can’t fully digest them.

Sugar alcohols are poorly absorbed and enter directly into the bloodstream.

Supposedly the body then filters them out and eliminates them, but what they do prior to being expelled is still up for some debate. Those that don’t get absorbed filter down into the large intestine where they ferment and cause gas, bloating and bowel problems.

They are currently considered healthy in moderate amounts if you do not have issues of the digestive tract such as IBS or sensitivity to FODMAPs. They are a reasonable sweetener for people who live with diabetes, but even then it’s important to know the different types of sugar alcohols.

So what are they?

Well contrary to their name, they are neither sugar nor alcohol. They are a type of carbohydrate and found naturally in some fruits and vegetables.

Most products today use synthetically engineered versions...

where hydrogen molecules are injected into certain sugar molecules to create a chemical structure that is a hybrid of sugar and alcohol.

Why create this genetic modification?

For those with diabetes, it can bring a little sweetness back into life, but otherwise, it’s simply another diet fad to allow us to have our cake and eat it too. This way we can continue our cravings and indulgences for sweet foods while still eating a “healthy” diet.

What to look for.

Sugar alcohols are also called polyols. This is a great way to search for them on ingredient labels as they end in “ol.” When reading, look for any of these sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, erythritol, xylitol and lactitol. Two other hidden terms would be hydrogenated starch hydrolysates and isomalt. They are found in everything from breath mints and bubblegum, to sugar-free snack and your favorite pre-workout bar.

Most of them are manufactured from corn starch, but xylitol is made from corn cobs, stalk residue from sugar cane or birch wood waste. For vegans or people with whey sensitivity, it’s important to look for lactitol which is made from the residual lactose in whey byproducts from processed dairy foods.

Not all healthy foods are created equal.

..look for any of these sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, erythritol, xylitol & lactitol.

We certainly don’t need to be eating something that wasn’t created naturally.

Sorbitol is one of the most common polyols and is regulated by the FDA saying that the amount in a given product cannot go above, “good manufacturing practices.” This perhaps doesn’t make you feel better. If a product uses more than 50 grams, it must have a warning label that it will act as a laxative in the body. Perhaps this isn’t something you actually want to consume.

Mannitol is actually readily found in plant foods, but what they put in packaged foods is hydrogenated fructose molecules which converts the structure into a sugar mannose. Nature did it better.

Maltitol may be less common as it hasn’t been officially approved by the FDA, but they did accept the petition for use back in 1986. This means companies can use it but not as widely. Maltitol is hydrogenated maltose which is the glucose-glucose disaccharide extracted from cornstarch. Though it is not exactly a sugar, it is well absorbed and can cause spikes in blood sugar, so diabetics should avoid this sugar substitute.

Xylitol should sound familiar as it is regularly found in gum, mints and even your toothpaste.

It has a natural minty flavor which makes it unique for these products. Though it has been approved by the FDA, it is limited to certain food products and allowed for the ease of diabetics. Most adults handle it well, but children can be sensitive to it. It is also highly toxic and often fatal to dogs.

Erythritol is a fan favorite in the processed food world as it is very sweet and low in calories. It is not a combined molecule. It is actually made by fermenting the glucose found in corn starch. Faux sweeteners such as stevia and truvia use this as the main ingredient. Out of all the polyols, this one has the least effect on the gut and the highest absorption rate into the bloodstream.

Should you eat them?

If the sugar alcohol is in your fruit or greens, then absolutely. Otherwise, processed food is still processed and never the best choice for your body. That’s why OWYN’s promise is to give you only what you need. The body doesn’t need to be hooked on sugar. The tongue doesn’t need to only enjoy sweet foods. And we certainly don’t need to be eating something that wasn’t created naturally.

If the sugar alcohol is in your fruit or greens, then absolutely. Otherwise, processed food is still processed and never the best choice for your body. That’s why OWYN’s promise is to give you only what you need. The body doesn’t need to be hooked on sugar. The tongue doesn’t need to only enjoy sweet foods. And we certainly don’t need to be eating something that wasn’t created naturally.

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