In our wonderful World, we look for substitutes to make our Nutrition plan healthier. Whether you are an athlete, bodybuilder or an average Joe who spends a lot of time watching Westworld (being inactive), you may be inquisitive as to the difference between Sugar and sugar alcohols?? Mainly: What are Sugar alcohols?
Sugar alcohols by definition are organic compounds, mainly derived from sugars, that comprise a class of polyols. A sugar alcohol is neither a sugar nor an alcoholic beverage(strange isn't it??). They are water-soluble solids that can occur naturally or be produced industrially from sugars. They are used in the vast majority of lower carbohydrate protein bars, or healthier variations of sodas (Read Zevia, a delicious beverage if I say so myself!) Often times, they are used as thickeners and sweeteners. Sugar alcohols are commonly used in place of table sugar (Sucrose is the name for the molecule) often in combination with high intensity artificial sweeteners to counter the low sweetness.
Examples are plentiful in these 2 labels. The 2nd main ingredient in a Zevia is one of the more popular sugar alcohols used in foods/beverages: Erythritol. It is produced from Glucose ( A main sugar molecule) by fermentation with yeast. It's a little over half the percentage of sweetness as Sugar, yet has minimal effects on your blood sugar and insulin levels! It partially absorbs into your body, mainly in the small intestine. A small dosage is entered in the colon, before it's excreted (urine).
Your other sugar alcohol of note is Xylitol. It is found most fruits and vegetables and is extracted from Birchwood. It has about 1/3 of the effect on your body as an actual sugar gram does. It also is commonly used as an aid in dental health(You'll see it on the label of your favorite chewing gums). Primarily, it's used in preventing tooth decay.(Smile kids!)
This is all great and well, it also leads me to the Glycemic Index. The Glycemic Index is a numerical index that ranks carbohydrates based on their rate of glycemic response ( their conversion to glucose(sugar) within the human body). The Glycemic Index uses a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values given to foods that cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. Pure glucose serves as a reference point, and is given a Glycemic Index (GI) of 100. Dates, a food that MANY people use for desserts and some people consider it "healthy", has a GI score if 100!! That my friends is atrocious, your blood stream and GI tract are consuming 100% sugar with every savory bite of a date!
What are some of the scores of a Sugar alcohol you ask??
BAM!! The vast majority of your Sugar alcohol's (the ones which end with the suffix of -tol) are substantially lower than a sugar molecule. Does that mean that sugar alcohols are in the clear when it comes to health distress?? Yes and No
While a LOT of your common sugar alcohols are not absorbable in your blood stream. The over-consumption of them can lead to gas, and GI distress. The body can not digest most of them, so they travel to the large intestine where they are metabolized by the gut bacteria. If you eat a lot of sugar alcohols in a short period of time, this can lead to symptoms like gas, bloating and diarrhea. Sorbitol and maltitol appear to be the biggest offenders, while erythritol causes the least symptoms.
If you're looking to kick your sugar habit, find products sweetened with Stevia, a natural Plant which is just as, if not more sweet than sugar. Like a LOT of your sugar alcohols, it has minimal to no effect on your insulin levels.
With the proper combination of good nutrition choices, a lot of water consumption, exercise and activity levels, you can whip yourself into shape with the right mentality. If you are a diabetic, I would look to eating foods high in fiber and avoid sugar altogether. Look for some of the alternatives above! Switch to Halo Top for your ice cream choice instead of Kemps or Ben and Jerry's. You'll find a lot of the healthier natural ingredients, a few sugar alcohols and 1/4 of the calories in a pint of it! 240 to 360 calories in a pint: which is equivalent to the caloric intake in a meal!
In closing, sugar alcohols are tasty alternatives to sugar. Switch to Zevia instead of a Coke if you HAVE to have a soda. (liquid calories=empty calories in my opinion.) Take this information today and apply it to your nutrition plan. If you have weight to lose and sugar is a vice, I GUARANTEE you'll see a shift within 30 days if you switch to a low sugar plan. (I may sound like an informerical, but you'd be surprised just exactly the damage sugar does to your weight and health numbers)
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jcvwellness. I am a personal trainer, master motivator, person who has dropped 60 pounds and kept it off for 16 years and can truly make an impact on any life if you let me in the door.