Carbohydrates that have been chemically transformed into alcohols. Sugar alcohols are less sweet and less caloric than table sugar. Because they are absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly than sugar, sugar alcohols don’t raise blood glucose levels as high and don’t require as much insulin to metabolize. For these reasons, people with diabetes sometimes use them as alternatives to sugar.
The most commonly used sugar alcohols are mannitol and sorbitol, which can be found in hard and soft candies, cookies, and cake mixes. Sugar alcohols are safe sweeteners, but consuming large amounts of them (about 50 grams of sorbitol or about 20 grams of mannitol) can cause diarrhea. Some people are particularly sensitive to these products and experience abdominal problems even with smaller amounts. Products containing large amounts of mannitol and sorbitol must carry the warning, “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”