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What is Sugar Alcohol? Sources, Characteristics, Examples

Mar 20, 2023

Sugar Alcohol

Whether kids or adults, most people like to eat sugary items like candies, chocolates, chewing gums, and many other foodstuffs. Parents usually limit their kids from eating them above. They feared tooth decay, diabetes, obesity, and other health problems from sugary eating items.

But do you know that not every sugary food item brings health problems or tooth decay issues? Many artificial sweeteners, sugars, or sugar alcohols are available for diabetic patients. Some are not beneficial but can be edible, like sugar alcohols.


You must have heard about artificial sweeteners and sugars. But what are sugar alcohols? What is alcohol sugar constructed from? How are they beneficial for diabetic victims? These general questions stuck you and stopped you from eating them.

Let’s dive into this article to aid you with all these queries about sugar alcohols.


What Is Sugar Alcohol?

These are organic compounds procured from sweet-tasting emulsifiable carbohydrates and contain one -OH group attached to each carbon atom of the molecule. Sugar alcohols are water-soluble, white, and solid compounds. They can transpire naturally and be synthesized by various methods at the industrial level.

On utilization, it gives a honeyed taste and fewer calories than other sugars. Therefore, they are broadly used in the food industry. You will be wondering that overall, candies obtainable in the market do not carry sugars due to health treatments and increasing fat-related problems among children. Instead, they are composed of sugar alcohols.


Sugar alcohols come under the class of polyols as they contain many hydroxyl groups. Chemically speaking, sugar alcohols (or polyols) are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates and comprise the suffix -itol, such as xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, erythritol, maltitol, mannitol, and isomaltitol.

What Are Sugar Alcohol Examples?

Xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, and mannitol are examples of sugar alcohols. They contain 60-70% sweetness, equivalent to general sugar but give fewer calories than sugars. Sugar alcohols are acquired from disaccharides. But both monosaccharides and disaccharides can construct sugar alcohols.


Some familiar sugar alcohols are tabulated below:

  • Ribitol
  • Glycerol
  • Threitol
  • Volemitol
  • Isomalt
  • Maltitol
  • Lactitol
  • Galactitol
  • Fucitol
  • Iditol
  • Inositol

What Are Sugar Alcohol Sources?

Many types of sugar alcohol exist in nature. They can also be produced to use in the food and pharmaceutical industry. Below is a list of generally used sugar alcohols, their sources, and their sweetness compared to regular sugar.


Sugar Alcohol

SourceCompared Sweetness
SorbitolSome fruits




Some plants like strawberries, mushrooms, and onions60%







birch wood, corncobs, and leftover sugar cane stalks60%



Hydrogenated starch hydrolysatesCornstarch

20 – 50%

What Is Sugar Alcohol’s General Chemical Structure?

They have the following common chemical formula – HOCH2(CHOH)nCH2OH

In its general formula, sugars have two fewer H-atoms than sugar alcohols. Because sugar alcohols are obtained from hexose or pentose sugars, they have 5-6 carbon atoms in the chain.

One hydroxyl group is attached to each C-atom. Although on dehydration, sugar alcohols produce cyclic ethers, sugar alcohols usually do not exist in cyclic forms.

How to Synthesize Sugar Alcohol?

Sugar alcohols can be obtained in laboratories or naturally. For instance, erythritol, sugar alcohol, can be obtained by fermenting glucose and sucrose sugars. At the same time, mannitol is produced by the hydrogenation of sugars in the presence of a porous nickel catalyst. At the same time, sorbitol sugar alcohol is also obtained in the same way as mannitol.

Some sugar alcohols are available in small amounts in the environment. Still, they are artificially made from sugars to be fabricated on an industrial scale. Most sugar alcohols are manufactured from glucose syrups (cornstarch) or glucose. Others are from lactose (milk), sucrose (cane or beet), and xylose (wood).

What Are Sugar Alcohol Characteristics?

Some characteristics of sugar alcohols are

  • They are not as sweet as general sugars.
  • Their metabolism is not feasible for oral bacteria.
  • They do not contain as many calories compared to sugars.
  • They do not turn brown on heating like general sugars.
  • They give a cooling sensation on consumption.
  • On dissolving sugar alcohols, an endothermic reaction occurs.
  • They do not get absorbed completely into the bloodstream.
  • The rate of absorption of sugar alcohols is 50% slower than sugars.

What Is Sugar Alcohol Used For?

There are various industries where sugar alcohols have extensive uses, such as food, pharmaceuticals, etc. Some general uses of sugar alcohols are given below.

  • Because of their sweetness and low-calorie characteristics, they are broadly used as food additives.
  • Sugar alcohols decrease the calorie counts present in food products. Hence, it also helps in reducing weight.
  • They are utilized to decrease the aftertaste of many sweeteners.
  • Sugar alcohols avoid tooth decay and aid in the prevention of it.
  • They are comprehensively used by diabetic victims in their sweet food items.
  • Glycaemic index or GI of sugar alcohols is low. Therefore, they can assist in maintaining the blood sugar level and reducing the carbohydrates rate.
  • Research proved that xylitol could prevent osteoporosis by increasing bone volume and mineral content.
  • Xylitol can elevate collagen building. So, it can aid in making your skin healthy.
  • Sugar alcohols are employed in toothpaste, baked food items, chewable vitamins, candies, cough syrups, ice creams, frostings, mouthwashes, etc.
  • They are used in medicines associated with weight management.
  • In food production, sugar alcohols are operated as gels and sweeteners. In advertising edibles, sugar alcohols are routinely used instead of table sugar.
  • Chewing gum manufacturers wield Xylitol, sugar alcohol, in their products. It is utilized to force oral bacteria, which prevents tooth decay.

Sugar Alcohols and Their Effects on Health

Sugar alcohols give many advantages over general sugars. The food contains restoring sugars due to their sweet taste and low calories. Sugars aim for tooth decay, while sugar alcohols do not bestow tooth decay as oral bacteria cannot ingest them. Even xylitol sugar alcohol protects against tooth decay.

In the bloodstream, they are soaked up at a lower rate than sugars. So, they are ideal for diabetic patients because they have less crash in blood sugar levels. Many sugary food items assembled for diabetic victims use sugar alcohols as sweeteners. However, abstracted sugar alcohols may result in diarrhea and vomiting when eaten up in deficient quantities. It is caused due to osmotic effects.


Sugar alcohols, also called polyols, are constituents that are utilized as bulking agents and sweeteners. They exist naturally in foods from vegetation products such as fruits and berries. They supply fewer calories, around half to one-third fewer calories, than regular sugar and can act as a sugar substitute.

Because they convert into glucose more slowly, they require little or no insulin to be ingested. Sugar alcohols do not cause sudden increases in blood sugar. That is why they are popular among individuals and people living with diabetes. However, their utilization is becoming more ordinary by just about everyone. You may be swallowing them without even knowing it.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the contrast between sugar and sugar alcohol?

Sugar, as in common table sugar, is a carbohydrate with the chemical composition C12H22O11. It is generally manufactured from sugar beets and sugar cane.

Sugar alcohol is a carbohydrate with a general chemical composition of HOCH2(CHOH)nCH2OH. Sugar alcohols are made from plant carbohydrates such as disaccharides which have been hydrogenated using Raney nickel catalysts.

Sugar alcohols are not as candied as regular sugar and do not increase insulin production as much as regular sugar. However, because they are incompletely digested, most can cause bloating and diarrhea if over-consumed.

2. What is the difference between sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, such as saccharin and aspartame, are not the same. There are some differences between them.

  • The two kinds of sugar substitutes are that artificial sweeteners accommodate zero calories. In contrast, sugar alcohols hold around 2.6 calories per gram.
  • Sugar alcohols carry some amount of carbohydrates. Therefore, they can boost blood sugar. In contrast, artificial sweeteners do not show any consequences on blood sugar. In short, both can be useful in managing diabetes when used properly.

3. Why is alcohol more unhealthy than sugar?

Alcohol is far more unhealthy than sugar. Your body is designed to process sugar chemically and get energy from it. Sugar enters the Krebs Cycle like a hand in a glove. Alcohol is a product of sugar. The liver has to reverse it into something non-toxic the body can process. The whole processing of alcohol goes against the metabolism of the body. Sugar gives us cheap, bad-quality energy, but it’s a natural energy source for the body.

4. What is the safest amount to consume sugar alcohol?

According to FDA, sugar alcohols are “generally recognised as safe.” The approved dose depends on the kind of sugar alcohol you are consuming. Most sugar alcohols are safe at a dosage of around 10 – 20 g daily but vary depending on the type. Understanding that a larger dose of sugar alcohol may cause symptoms like diarrhea is necessary.

Sugar Alcohol


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