Artificial Sweeteners

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar and sugar alcohols are each considered nutritive sweeteners because they provide calories when consumed. Sugar alcohols, or polyols, contain fewer calories than sugar. Sugar provides 4 kcal/gram, and sugar alcohols provide an average of 2 kcal/gram (range from 1.5 kcal/gram to 3 kcal/gram). Contrary to their name, sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates with structures that only resemble sugar and alcohol.

Foods that contain sugar alcohols can be labeled sugar-free because they replace full-calorie sugar sweeteners. Sugar alcohols have been found to be a beneficial substitute for sugar for reducing glycemic response, decreasing dental cavities, and lowering caloric intake.

Sugar alcohols naturally occur in many fruits and vegetables but are most widely consumed in sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. The sweetness of sugar alcohols varies from 25% to 100% as sweet as table sugar (sucrose). The amount and kind being used will be dependant on the food. The following table lists the details on each of the sugar alcohols.

Sugar Alcohol Calories/Gram Sweetness Compared to Sucrose Sources
Sorbitol 2.6 50% to 70% Sugar-free hard and soft candies, chewing gum, flavored jam and jelly spreads, frozen foods, and baked goods
Mannitol 1.6 50% to 70% Chewing gum, hard and soft candies, flavored jam and jelly spreads, confections, and frostings
Xylitol 2.4 100% Chewing gum, hard candies, and pharmaceutical products
Erythritol 0.2 60% to 80% Confectionery and baked products, chewing gum, and some beverages
Isomalt 2.0 45% to 65% Hard and soft candies, ice cream, toffee, fudge, lollipops, wafers, and chewing gum
Lactitol 2.0 30% to 40% Chocolate, cookies and cakes, hard and soft candies, and frozen dairy desserts
Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH) 3.0 25% to 50% Sugar-free foods and candies, and low-calorie foods
Maltitol 2.1 90% Sugar-free chocolate, hard candies, chewing gum, baked goods, and ice cream

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