What is sugar alcohol

Polyhydric alcohols: what they are and what benefits they can have for you

La Dolce Vita - and all without carbohydrates and sugar? What do polyhydric alcohols (MA) have to do with the sweet life? No, the point is not that you consume something strong, but rather as few calories and carbohydrates as possible - for example, if you eat a low-carb diet.

They help you in many foods, from drinks to ice cream to chewing gum. But how exactly?

Note: In order to take into account the common usage and everyday language, the terms sweeteners and sugar substitutes have been used synonymously.

From a legal and food point of view, these are two different sweeteners.

Sweeteners are basically synthetic while sugar substitutes are of natural origin.

Polyvalent alcohols: sweet, yes, not always edible

Have you ever tried to toast with polyvalent alcohol? Only in terms of chemical structure do polyhydric alcohols (polyols) belong in the same category as the potable alcohol ethanol, to be recognized by the oxygen / hydrogen groups (-OH). Sugar alcohols have the formula H (HCHO) n + 1H, whereas real sugars have the formula H (HCHO) nHCO.

Despite the similarity, polyhydric alcohols are neither sugar nor alcohol, but carbohydrates, so like proteins and fats, basic nutrients. But unlike other carbohydrates, the low-calorie polyvalent alcohols are only absorbed slowly or incompletely.

Multiple alcohols have two or three of the groups mentioned. (Source & Link: chemiezauber.de).

One of them is glycol (ethane-1,2-diol), which tastes sweet, but is highly toxic (as in gly, from the Greek glykys = sweet). Because its melting point is below that of water, glycol is used in antifreeze. Glycol irritates the eyes and respiratory tract and damages organs such as the kidneys, heart and lungs - as little as 1.4 ml / kg body weight is fatal.

Glycerine (propane-1,2,3-triol), which is often found naturally in vegetable and animal fats, is also a polyhydric alcohol, but it is non-toxic. Thanks to its hygroscopic (water-binding) effect, it keeps creams, tobacco, printing inks and toothpaste nice and moist.

Skin and eye irritation can occur on contact, but swallowed quantities of a maximum of 50 ml are harmless - a substance that is popular in cosmetics and food production. Polyvalent alcohols bind water molecules excellently, while classic alcohol (ethanol) removes water from the tissue.

Sugar substitutes: a who's who

"Sugar-free" or "Without sugar"? If your cookie pack or your fitness bar claim this, the chance is high that polyvalent alcohols or sugar alcohols are in it! But: Polyvalent alcohols are sweeteners (sugar substitutes), but not all sweeteners are also polyvalent alcohols - such as aspartame or saccharin.

Significantly lower in calories than sugar, polyhydric alcohols drive your blood sugar up much less than other carbohydrates. Because your metabolism uses them independently of insulin. Which are there? These eight sugar substitutes are approved in the EU:

  • Sorbitol (E 420)
  • Mannitol (E 421)
  • Isomalt (E 953)
  • Maltitol (E 965)
  • Lactitol (E 966)
  • Xylitol (E967)
  • Erythritol (E 968)
  • Polyglycitol syrup (E 964)

A table listing the calorie content, sweetness and typical product examples can be found here: (Link: to the table).

Sugar alcohol = sugar alcohol? particularities

Polyvalent alcohols are of vegetable, natural origin. Like sorbitol, which you find in fruits like rowan berries or stone fruits. The white, crystalline powder, which is now industrially obtained from corn starch, converts your body into fructose (fruit sugar), and it is also the basis for the production of ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Or mannitol (mannitol), a hexavalent alcohol, contained in dried sieve tube juice from manna ash. An (almost) perfect alternative to sugar is xylitol (also birch sugar), a sugar alcohol that was discovered in 1890 and isolated from wood shavings.

But your body also produces xylitol - while your liver breaks down carbohydrates! In its sweetening power, xylitol comes pretty close to sugar, but has about 40 percent fewer calories. Are you diabetic? Then your insulin level is hardly impressed by this multiple alcohol. However, you should hide anything edible with xylitol from your dog - it lacks the enzymes to break down this sweetener.

And erythritol? Arises from microbial changes in carbohydrates, supported by special mushrooms - and although it looks like table sugar, it is not quite as sweet. Ideal for your reduction diet, because your body does not metabolize erythritol (including sucolin, erythritol or Xucker Light).

The Logi method also recommends polyvalent alcohols - in reasonable doses, while it advises against refined sugars, but allows small amounts of natural honey and maple syrup.

Polyvalent alcohols: advantages at a glance

Polyvalent alcohols are not only lower in calories than sugar or even calorie-free, they are also gentle on the teethwhether you're cleaning your pearly whites or enjoying sweets like chewing gum. Unlike sugar, the bacteria in your mouth do not convert polyhydric alcohols into aggressive acids - and so they multiply less.

The most important thing: They support you effectively if you want to lose weight or prevent you from gaining weight again (source: diabetes.org). Plus, they're low in carbohydrates, which makes your blood sugar levels happy! You can check the effects of the consumption of polyvalent alcohols on your urine with special sticks.

Alternatively, you can test your blood with the help of a digital measuring device. Polyvalent alcohols as sweeteners give food, tea and coffee delicious extra sweetness and taste, but without creating extra fat deposits - try it yourself!

Are there any disadvantages?

Before you decide on a - often more expensive - product with a reduced calorie content, take a look at the label: How nutritious is it still? Many foods that contain polyvalent alcohols or sweeteners are still bursting with carbohydrates, fat and calories.

Maybe your product is also available with sugar? Compare whether reaching for the sugar-free one is even worthwhile. Satisfied with the result? Then you should also bear in mind that polyvalent alcohols have a “laxative effect” if you enjoy too much of them - with flatulence or diarrhea. Everything that contains more than 10 percent sugar alcohols must bear this notice.

Reason: Our digestive organs cannot fully utilize polyhydric alcohols and therefore react with complaints when the sugar alcohol tries to break down in the intestine. How much sweetener can you eat? Well, as a rule of thumb, three protein bars - every day! - are a little too much.

Nevertheless, everyone reacts differently to polyvalent alcohols, some even allergic. Exactly which polyvalent alcohols are contained is often only stated on the pack as an E number - unless you are dealing with a special low-carb product.

Does sweetener make you fat?

Sugar-free chewing gum has a reputation for stimulating the appetite. And there are actually people who consume diet soda and other products but gain weight. Studies suspect incorrectly produced neurotransmitters, a dysregulation of the glucose level or liver problems as possible causes (source: aerztezeitung.de).

The fact is - most of us love sweets and sometimes develop a direct cravings for them. Why? Simple sugars go straight into the blood and pamper us with the happiness hormone dopamine. Some US long-term studies want to show that people who often use calorie-free sweeteners must expect negative effects on blood pressure, glucose metabolism, kidneys, blood vessels and heart.

At the University of Texas, the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) specifically examined the relationship between diet soda consumption and waist size in seniors. 749 Americans, age 65 and older, were followed for nine years. (Source: J Am Geriatr Soc 2015).

Result: The waist circumference increased continuously from 65 years of age (constant at 80 years of age) - three times more than the test subjects who avoided diet soda, most noticeably in the men. Something crucial that the study unfortunately did not find out is: How did this increase actually come about?

Cravings for high calories can only be assumed, because the study unfortunately did not check how many calories the test subjects consumed in total.

NetCarbs: This is how it is calculated!

"NetCarbs" is written on your low-carb product - and means the net carbohydrates that can be taken into account. What do protein bars or shakes contain? How to calculate NetCarbs: Assuming your food contains 20 g gross carbohydrates. If you subtract 15 g of polyvalent alcohols, 5 g of carbohydrates remain countable - these are the NetCarbs.

With sugar-free chewing gum, by the way, often gross for net - for example with 70 percent carbohydrates, from 70 percent polyvalent alcohol. But your arithmetic doesn't always run as smoothly as here: Your bar weighs 35 g, 7.9 g are carbohydrates, 0.4 g of which are sugar, polyvalent alcohols 6.6 g - where are the remaining 0.9 g? Possibly fiber from grains.

A second method, by the way, removes polyhydric alcohols, which are not completely absorbed, only half and proportionally to the calorie content.

Nutritional labeling: See which polyvalent alcohols are in it

Food manufacturers have to show the total amount of carbohydrates on the package, the sugar alcohols are below that. In terms of consumer protection and a healthy diet, nutritional labeling is mandatory according to the EU Food Information Regulation (LIMV). How much sugar is in the yogurt, is there any sugar in it?

Since December 13, 2016, with the entry into force of the last part of the EU-LMIV, nutritional information in tabular form has been mandatory (previously only for products that advertised with nutritional value or health-promoting effects such as "sugar-free" or "rich in vitamin C"). Information must relate to 100 grams or 100 milliliters of food - and identify the so-called Big 7:

In addition to the calorific value (kJ / kcal), amount of fat, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, salt and sugar, you can now also specify the percentage of the recommended daily amount (reference amount) in a product. Certain products such as tea, chewing gum or table sweets are exempt from the obligation. (Source & Link: Bundesregierung.de).

In addition, manufacturers are now allowed to specify ingredients such as simple and polyunsaturated fatty acids, but also polyvalent alcohols as well as starch and fiber in the nutritional table. Do you buy online? Online retailers must also present all information in a clearly visible manner or in a supplementary table.

Conclusion: slim and fit with sugar alcohol

Would you like to enjoy sweets without worrying about gaining weight from carbohydrates? Then you can make products with sugar substitutes part of your diet plan! Products with sweeteners such as polyvalent alcohols are generally beneficial in terms of health and weight loss if they contain fewer calories than other carbohydrates.

But none of the numerous studies has so far been able to provide solid arguments to prove health risks from sweeteners. On the contrary: studies, for example on rats, found: Xylitol lowers blood sugar and blood lipid levels. At the same time, glucose tolerance increases so that the pancreas is able to produce more insulin (study & link: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

Diabetic products with fructose, sorbitol and xylitol increase blood sugar far less than normal sugar. Still, low-calorie foods are not everything. Fitness primarily means keeping your balance - and eating consciously and specifically!

However, polyvalent alcohols can help you when the desire for sweets becomes overpowering.