Share on Pinterest

If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.

Sugar alcohol is a sweetener that can be found in many low-calorie, diet, and reduced-calorie foods. It provides a taste and texture similar to that of regular table sugar. This makes it a satisfying alternative for people who wish to limit their sugar intake, such as those with diabetes.

Because sugar alcohol isn’t fully absorbed during digestion, it provides about half the amount of calories that regular sugar does. Plus, it has less impact upon blood sugar levels.

Sugar alcohol naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables. It’s also commercially manufactured. It can be identified on food labels by several ingredient names. These include:

names for sugar alcohol
  • xylitol
  • sorbitol
  • maltitol
  • mannitol
  • lactitol
  • isomalt
  • erythritol
  • glycerin
  • glycerine
  • glycerol
  • hydrogenated starch hydrolysates

Shop for sugar alcohol.

Despite its name, sugar alcohol isn’t intoxicating. It doesn’t contain alcohol, even in trace amounts.

Sugar alcohol is a carbohydrate. Even though it’s impact on blood sugar is less than that of real sugar, it can raise blood sugar levels if you consume too much of it.

If you have diabetes, it’s OK for you to eat foods containing sugar alcohol. However, since sugar alcohol is a carbohydrate, you will still need to watch the portion size.

Read the Nutrition Facts label on everything you eat, including food products that are sugar-free or calorie-free. In many instances, those claims refer to specific serving sizes. Eating more than the exact serving size indicated can affect the amount of carbohydrates you take in.

Since foods with sugar alcohol are labeled as “low sugar” or “sugar free,” you may assume they’re foods you can eat in unlimited quantities. But if you have diabetes, eating these foods may mean you take in more carbohydrates than your eating plan allows.

In order to eliminate this risk, count the carbohydrates and calories derived from sugar alcohols. Include them in your overall daily meal plan.

If you have diabetes, you may find that sugar alcohol is a good alternative to sugar. Positive health effects from sugar alcohol include the following:

  • It has less impact on blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin may not be needed at all, or only in small amounts, to metabolize sugar alcohol.
  • It has fewer calories than sugar and other higher-calorie sweeteners.
  • It doesn’t cause cavities or harm teeth.
  • The taste and texture resembles sugar without a chemical aftertaste.

Whether you have diabetes or not, you may experience specific side effects from sugar alcohol. This is because sugar alcohol is a type of FODMAP, called a polyol. (FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.)

FODMAPs are food molecules that some people find hard to digest. Eating foods that contain sugar alcohol may act as a laxative or create gastrointestinal distress in some people. These symptoms may become more severe if you eat a large quantity.

Side effects of sugar alcohol
  • stomach pain or discomfort
  • cramping
  • gas
  • bloating
  • diarrhea

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can never enjoy sweets, even if sugar alcohol isn’t a fit for you.

In some instances, you may even be able to enjoy regular sugar in small amounts as part of your meal plan. There are several sugar substitutes for people with diabetes that you might also prefer. These include the following:

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners may be synthetically made or made from regular sugar via a chemical process. Since they provide no calories and no nutrition, they’re also referred to as nonnutritive sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners may be much sweeter than natural sugar. They’re often included as ingredients in low-calorie foods and can be found in packet form.

Artificial sweeteners aren’t carbohydrates and don’t raise blood sugar.

artificial sweeteners
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin). Saccharin (benzoic sulfimide) was the first no-calorie sweetener. Some people find that it has a slightly bitter taste. Shop for saccharin.
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal). Aspartame is derived from aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Shop for aspartame.
  • Sucralose (Splenda). Sucralose is derived from sugar. It may have a more natural taste to some people than saccharin and aspartame. Shop for sucralose.

Novel sweeteners

Novel sweeteners are derived through a variety of processes. They may also be a combination of one or more different types of sweeteners. They include:

novel sweeteners
  • Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via). Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. Because it requires processing, it’s sometimes referred to as an artificial sweetener. Stevia is nonnutritive and has a low caloric content. Shop for stevia.
  • Tagatose (NuNaturals Sweet Health Tagatose, Tagatesse, Sensato). Tagatose is a low-carb sweetener derived from lactose. It has a low caloric content. Tagatose can brown and caramelize, making it a good alternative for sugar in baking and cooking. Shop for tagatose.

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you need to give up sweets completely. Foods containing sugar alcohol as an ingredient may be a tasty alternative that can easily fit into most meal plans.

Sugar alcohols have some calories and carbs, so it’s important to keep an eye on the quantity you eat. They also may cause gastric distress in some people.