Sugar Alcohols—What Are They?
By: Dr. Steven C. Simper, MD, FACS
“It is the will and ambition of our patients who ultimately make their weight loss possible. Treating the whole person is a critical part of the care given to my patients.”
Sugar alcohols, or polyols, are ingredients derived from plant products such as fruits and berries. They are named sugar alcohols because they are chemically considered alcohols, but are derived from sugar molecules. Sugar alcohols, however, do not contain ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages. Polyols are carbohydrates that are chemically altered and are used as sweeteners and bulking agents. As a sugar substitute, they provide about one-half to one-third less calories than regular sugar.
Sugar alcohols are found in many “sugar-free” processed foods such as hard candies, soft drinks, cookies, chewing gums, throat lozenges, and even mouthwash and toothpaste. Common sugar alcohols include mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.
Because of the chemical structure of sugar alcohols, they are slowly and incompletely absorbed from the small intestine into the blood. Absorbed polyols are then converted to energy by processes that require less insulin than regular sugar. Therefore, they tend to affect blood glucose levels less dramatically than regular sugar does. However, they are still carbohydrates, still have calories, and can still raise blood glucose levels and contribute to weight gain! Also, because polyols are not completely absorbed by the intestines, bloating and diarrhea become common side effects, especially when eaten in large amounts. Sugar alcohols also act much like fructose found in fruit and fruit juices, having a laxative effect for many people.
Adding to the confusion with sugar alcohols, is that U.S. labeling laws allow manufacturers to use the terms “sugar free” or “no added sugar” on the labels of products made with polyols, giving the illusion that the product has no carbohydrates. It is easy to mistakenly think that eating “sugar free” foods does not count towards your daily food intake, but some products may contain significant amounts of carbohydrates. It is important to check the food label. This will provide the total amount of carbohydrates contained in the product. If the terms “sugar free” or “no added sugar” is used on a product, the manufacturer must list the grams of sugar alcohols. If more than one sugar alcohol is used, the amount of sugar alcohol will be found under the “total carbohydrate” of the “Nutrition Facts” panel. If just one sugar alcohol is used, the label will list the specific name of the sugar alcohol.
As you know, there are many reasons that sugar alcohols are not the best choice for any weight loss surgery patients, especially Gastric Bypass patients. For long-term success and health, proteins and vegetables are still the best choices! They offer the nutrition, fiber and protein your body needs.
About the Author:
Dr. Steven Simper, MD, FACS, performed his first bariatric procedures in 1984 at Wilford Hall Medical Center, in Texas. Currently, he performs laparoscopic gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, duodenal switch, and revisional surgery. In addition to general surgery procedures. He joined Rocky Mountain Associated Physicians in 2001, and began performing laparoscopic gastric bypass. Since 2008, he has developed his skill and expertise with the powerful biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch (DS). He is among a handful of surgeons who perform this procedure. He both proctors other surgeons and is a speaker at bariatric conferences in regards to the duodenal switch procedure. In following his patients, and witnessing results, he has become a strong advocate for this procedure in the select individual who needs a powerful surgery.