Message Boards » Keto » Discussion

TOPIC: Sugar alcohols and weight loss

Topic has been inactive for 30 days or more and images have been disabled.
Display All Images
July 1, 2013 2:58 PM
Hi all! I am hoping to get some perspective on sugar alcohols. I was wondering if anyone has any thoughts or experiences with the effect of sugar alcohols (such as those in Atkin's bars) on weight loss. Do you stall or find them helpful? Thanks in advance for any guidance!
July 1, 2013 3:25 PM
Malitol bad.
Erythritol good.


Seriously though. Sugar alcohols are a broad category, with a lot of items included. They can be significantly different with respect to how your body absorbs them, and their glycemic index. Malitol is bad, evil stuff. It has a high glycemic index and will cause gastrointestinal upset. The stalls are likely due to the high GI.

Atkins never endorsed Sugar Alcohols. I read that when he died, the company went into bankruptcy. His brand was bought up, and the company uses his name to sell their Atkins bars.



A sugar alcohol, also known as a polyol, is an interesting type of carbohydrate. Its structure is kind of a hybrid between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule (hence the name “sugar alcohol”) and, for the most part, our bodies do a poor job of digesting and breaking down sugar alcohol in the small bowel. It’s also sweet to the tongue and resistant to fermentation by oral bacteria, meaning sugar-free gum manufacturers employ it judiciously to sweeten their products without causing cavities. Our colonic bacteria, however, can and do ferment the stuff. For that reason, it’s a kind of prebiotic that, as Kurt Harris points out, can stimulate diarrhea and exacerbate existing irritable bowel syndrome-related symptoms. Common side effects of sugar alcohol consumption (or over-consumption) include bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Sugar alcohols are not quite non-caloric, but all contribute fewer calories than sucrose, and their effects on insulin and blood sugar (if any) are pretty minimal.

Sugar alcohols pop up in nature, in fruits like apples and pears, but any commercial product that contains them must list the specific alcohols in the ingredients. If they aren’t counted toward the official carb count, they must be listed separately in the nutritional information. Let’s look at some of the popular ones you’ll be encountering:

Xylitol – Glycemic Index of 13

Xylitol is one of the more popular sugar alcohols. It tastes remarkably like sucrose, has about half the calories, and is 1.6 times as sweet, with little effect on blood glucose and none on insulin levels. You can find xylitol in certain berries, corn husks, mushroom fibers, and oats; most commercial xylitol comes from hardwood and corn. Xylitol has a cooling effect on the mouth and is actively protective against dental caries (as opposed to merely being neutral or non-contributive, like the other sugar alcohols), making it the favorite choice of sugar-free chewing gum makers.

There appear to be some interesting health benefits to xylitol, too, beyond the well-established preventive actions against dental plaque and cavities. Xylitol shows promise as a bone remineralization agent, positively affecting both tooth enamel and bone mineral density (albeit, thus far, in rats). I count at least ten studies showing xylitol’s promise in the treatment or prevention of osteoporosis.

Just don’t feed it to your dog. Also, it may exacerbate intestinal distress or cause diarrhea, so exercise caution (and linger near a toilet if you’re unsure of its effect on you).

Sorbitol – Glycemic Index of 9

Sorbitol is found primarily in stone fruits, and manufacturers use it in diet sodas, sugar-free ice creams and desserts, as well as mints, cough syrups, and gum. It’s about half as sweet as sucrose, with 2.6 calories per gram (compared to sucrose’s 4 calories per gram, of course). Being a polyol, it has the potential to cause great gastrointestinal distress, especially in patients with IBS. This is compounded by its relative lack of sweetness when compared to other polyols, like xylitol; people are more likely to consume greater amounts of sorbitol to attain the desired level of sweetness and companies are more likely to use more of it.

There don’t appear to be any proactive beneficial effects with sorbitol. It doesn’t affect insulin or blood glucose, which could be good for diabetics, but there’s nothing like xylitol’s promise.

Erythritol – Glycemic Index of 0

Erythritol is almost non-caloric (0.2 calories per gram) and about 60-70% as sweet as sugar. It’s the only sugar alcohol that doesn’t appear to cause gastrointestinal distress (because the body absorbs it rather than let it pass to the colon for fermentation), it doesn’t affect blood sugar or insulin, and it cannot be fermented by dental bacteria (and it exhibits some of xylitol’s inhibitory effect on carie-causing oral bacteria, though not all of it).

For the most part, erythritol seems pretty safe, and it’s rumored to taste very similar to sugar. Overconsumption – taking in more than your body can absorb – can result in bloating and gastrointestinal distress, but it takes a lot.

Maltitol – Glycemic Index of 36

Maltitol is very similar to actual sugar in terms of mouth feel, taste, and even cooking performance (except for browning, which it cannot do). It’s 90% as sweet with half the calories, so manufacturers love using copious amounts of maltitol in sugar-free desserts and other products. That’s all well and good while you’re eating the stuff, but what about half an hour later once all that sugar alcohol has finally reached your colon and the bacteria has started feasting and fermenting? Bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

It’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Mal.

There are others, but those are the big ones. Overall, the literature shows that sugar alcohols are fairly neutral as far as blood glucose and insulin effects go. Some people may see spikes, as I’ve seen reports on blogs and in comment boards to that effect, but most people won’t. They can hit your gut pretty hard and cause problems there, especially if you’ve got a preexisting condition, but healthy people with healthy digestion (which isn’t as widespread as most people think, of course) should be okay with some here and there. Xylitol in particular seems promising, and I’ll keep my eye out for more information on that as it emerges.

If you’re doing fine without sweeteners (non-caloric, hypo-caloric, artificial, natural, whatever), keep it up. Don’t go looking for an excuse to introduce sugar substitutes. But if your desire for something, anything sweet is derailing your attempts at a healthy diet, sugar alcohols may be worth experimenting with. Give it a shot if you’re gonna and let me know how it goes.
Edited by kiramaniac On July 1, 2013 3:28 PM
July 1, 2013 3:48 PM
I've been trying to do a lot of research on that myself about Sugar Alcohols. Apparently they are more difficult for the body to process thus producing less of an insulin spike.

"A Quick Overview of Insulin

You probably know what insulin is, but if you don’t here is a quick summary: Insulin is a hormone that causes most of the body’s cells to take up glucose from the blood (including liver, muscle, and fat tissue cells), storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stops use of fat as an energy source. When insulin is absent (or low), glucose is not taken up by most body cells and the body begins to use fat as an energy source. "
^ Source:

Unfortunately though everyone process Sugar Alcohols differently...

"If you can eat sugar alcohols without distress, you are digesting them, and should count the carbs. If you feel like ****, you can assume you are not digesting them, and don't need to count." ~ forums

For me I can't eat them without some kind of distress depending on how many grams of it I eat. In small moderations like 10g I do ok.

Some sugar alcohols aren't aborbed into the body at all and don't effect insulin or blood sugar. Yet, the moment they enter the small intestines they attract water galour! Expect to be sitting on the toilet all day if you eat more than 20+ grams of sugar alcohol a day! Learned that the hard way...

Erythritol to me has been the safest sugar alcohol to eat without much distress. It's listed as a carb, but techniqually isn't. From my understanding the FDA didn't know where else to place it as it's not a fat nor protein. Being silimar to regular sugars they listed sugar alcohols as carbs. It has a caloric value of 0.2 per gram.

Most of Erythritol eaten gets absorbed in the small intestine and gets dumped out in the urine.

But you have to test yourself and see if the sugar alcohol will kick you out of Keto. Not sure how much sugar alcohol Atkins bar have, but I usually eat Quest bars. They are "very high" in fiber. Like 21 carbs, but 18 fiber for example... If I eat any other protein bar I make sure it has fiber and low counts of sugar alcohol. My Detour Lean Muscle Whey Protein Bar has 15 carbs, but 4 is fiber and 8 is sugar alcohol. If I eat 1 of those I'm good, but 2 and I may get the runs....

This link below is also a good site to learn about the different alcohols and their effects on the body:
July 1, 2013 3:51 PM
Lol @ kiramaniac

Very informative info concerning the Glycemic Index
July 1, 2013 3:52 PM
Thanks for all of that information, so helpful!! I was looking at the Atkin's bar ingredients and sure enough, malitol. They are marketed as low glycemic, which in comparison to actual sugar maybe...I noticed that whenever I have one my blood sugar goes on a roller coaster but I attributed it to carb cravings. I had no idea that malitol was high glycemic though! Do you by chance know of any good bar choices? Not as a diet staple but just in a bind thing.
July 1, 2013 3:58 PM
Thanks for the info and bar options Jisatsu! I hadn't realized you'd given those suggestions until after I had replied to Kira
July 1, 2013 6:27 PM
No problem. That's what were all here for!
July 2, 2013 6:27 PM
I've eaten Atkins bars in the past, and noticed that when I was eating them, I did not lose any weight. I know a handful of people that have have had their weight stall due to them as well. I treat myself to the Russell Stover's Sugar Free chocolates on a weekly basis, and have not noticed any negative effects. I've heard that sugar alcohols effect everyone differently.
Edited by kgoodman0108 On July 2, 2013 6:29 PM

Message Boards » keto

Posts by members, moderators and admins should not be considered medical advice and no guarantee is made against accuracy.