There is a group, called sugar alcohols that behave differently in our body to cane sugar, glucose or fructose etc.
The denomination – sugar alcohol – can be misleading. This, however is only chemical nomenclature. The physiological effects of sugar alcohols are much more beneficial than that of sugars or alcohols. Both the food and pharmaceutical industry are very keen on using them in several different areas as sweeteners, thickeners and as smoothing agents.
As for their physiological effects there are 3 main characteristics we need to make note of:
Firstly, sugar alcohols do not contribute to tooth decay. Not only that bacterias are not able to feed on them, but as the bacterias in our mouth can't break them down, no acid is produced to damage the enamel.
The second beneficial quality is that their calorie content is lower than table sugar’s, but they don’t have an aftertaste so they can be successfully applied to weight loss programs. They can replace sugar in coffees, soft drinks or cakes. They cannot be used for dough making however, as - similarly to bacterias – yeast is not able to feed on sugar alcohols therefore it will not make our dough rise.
The third very important feature is the laxative effect. We need to be aware of this as a very unpleasant side effect might occur when consuming larger portions. However, in small amounts it should not cause a problem. (Except for children) Those consuming sugar alcohols on a regular basis will grow accustomed to them so on the long run no need to worry about this disadvantage either.
Most common types
Xylitol - E967
It’s sweetness relative to sucrose is equal but it has 40% less calories. Originally made from birch bark, now it is most often made from corn stalks, cobs, and husks. Currently Xylitol is the best replacement for table sugar as its colour, taste and texture is the most similar to sucrose. (For example, during baking where sugar does not only add taste but weight as well, it’s quite important). Xylitol is often used in chewing gum production because of its „tooth-friendly” qualities. It is made of relatively cheap raw material, so its production is not necessarily expensive, however, because of its health benefits, there is a strong marketing activity behind it which raises its price significantly.
Sorbitol – E420
Sorbitol has a sweet taste and – because of its low melting point – it produces a cooling sensation in the mouth. Its most commonly used in sugar free chewing gums. It is also used in the production of L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It also occurs naturally in many stone fruits such as pears, plums, cherries and peach. It is not recommended for children under the age of 1 though, as at that age children are not able to digest it.
Mannitol – E965
Mannitol is commonly used in medical care as a laxative. In the food industry it’s used because of its low calorie benefits and as a smoothing agent.
Erythritol – E958
It’s has a slightly different chemical build-up, therefore the human body is only partially able to absorb it, which makes it a zero calorie sweetener virtually without aftertaste. A further advantage to this sugar alcohol that it has no laxative effect.
So to sum it all up, sugar alcohols are a great replacement for table sugar, they fully satisfy the desire for sweet taste, on the other hand they have low calorie content and help prevent tooth decay.