Periodic Table -> Sugar Alcohols
A sugar alcohol is also called polyol, polyalcohol or polyhydric alcohol. It is actually a form of hydrogenated carbohydrate. A sugar alcohol’s carbonyl group which consists of ketone or aldehyde, or reducing sugar is lowered to a primary or secondary type of hydroxyl group, (thus the alcohol). The general formula of a sugar alcohol is H(HCHO)n+1H, while sugar has H(HCHO)nHCO.
Sugar alcohols are generally used in foodstuffs that are available commercially. These are used instead of sucrose or table sugar and are commonly mixed with high degree of artificial sweeteners to balance the low level of sweetness.
Types of Sugar Alcohols or Polyols
According to the different chemical structures, sugar alcohols can be divided into the following categories:
- Monosaccharide - derived mixture. Certain examples include mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol.
- Disaccharide - derived mixture. Some examples are maltitol, lactitol, and isomalt.
- Polysaccharide – derived mixture. Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH) and maltitol syrup.
Certain sugar alcohols which are approved by Food and Drug Administration or GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) or certain safe food additives include:
- Sorbitol – This is used in baked goods, frozen desserts, chewing gums, and certain sugar – free candies.
- Xylitol - It is used in throat lozenges, toothpastes, and cough syrups.
- Erythritol – It is used in as a bulk sweetener in low calorie food items.
- Lactitol – This is used in chocolate, cookies and soft candies.
- Isomalt – This is also used in cough drops, fudge wafers, and lollipops.
The calorie content of the sugar alcohols falls in the range between zero to three calories every gram in comparison to sucrose or other forms of sugar which have four calories every gram. The majority of sugar alcohols have less sweetness than sucrose while maltitol and xylitol have about the same quantity of sweetness as sucrose.
Uses of Sugar Alcohols in the Form of Food Additives
- Sugar alcohols contain lesser calories than sucrose. Since their flavor resembles sucrose, sugar alcohols are frequently used to camouflage the not so pleasant aftertastes of certain sweeteners.
- Since oral bacteria do not act upon sugar alcohols, these do not result in tooth decay. Xylitol inhibits oral bacteria and thus is frequently used in chewing gums and sugarless mints.
- Sugar alcohols do not caramelize or turn brown when heated.
- Apart from the sweetness of the sugar alcohols, they also generally give rise to a cooling sensation within the mouth in a highly concentrated form. Chewing gums and sugar free candies are certain examples of products which give us the cooling sensations. This takes place, for instance with crystallization or solidification of maltitol, lactitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol. The sensation of coolness inside the mouth is on account of the sugar alcohol dissolving which is an endothermic or heat absorbing reaction.
- The incomplete absorption of sugar alcohols in the blood stream through the small intestines usually brings lesser changes in blood sugar level than sucrose or regular sugar. Thus sugar alcohols are very popular sweeteners, used extensively by the health – conscious and diabetics.
- However, sugar alcohols just like general incompletely digestible products can cause bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea if consumed in great quantities. Certain individuals can develop these symptoms even with very small quantities. One can develop some amount of tolerance through regular consumption of sugar alcohols. Erythritol is an exception which is absorbed by the small intestine and is excreted without undergoing any change through urine.
- Those individuals who underwent gastric bypass surgery should be cautious against consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols, erythritol being an exception. Intake of sugar alcohols by such individuals may lead to gastric dumping syndrome, also called “early” or “late” dumping or gastric emptying. This is a condition when the top part of the small intestine begins to expand sooner on account of hyperosmolar food being present from the stomach.
Generally, any product’s ingredient list contains the specific names of sugar alcohols used. They are included in the total amount of carbohydrate present as indicated, or separately as sugar alcohols. In case the product is claimed as sugar free or “with no sugar added”, it is the responsibility of the manufacturers to provide the count of sugar alcohol separately.
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