aka Sugar Alcohols 

  • On my quest to discover all polyol-based sweeteners available to you in stores, I found over 120 products

  • Polyols provide about half or less of the calories of sugars and are used not only for sweetening but also for a variety of culinary benefits

  • Chemically speaking, they are also called sugar alcohols but are not sugars nor alcohols; they are carbohydrates

  • To find them on labels, look for the suffix -itol such as in sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, lactitol, mannitol, maltitol, isomaltitol

  • Some polyols are found in nature and often referred to as 'naturally ocurring': sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, mannitol 

  • Although present in small amounts in nature, store-bought polyols are synthetic copies of their natural counterparts

  • Some polyols have not been found in nature and so, are artificially made: lactitol, isomalt, maltitol-containing syrups  

  • On an industrial scale, all polyols are synthetically prepared from sugars by fermentation or hydrogenation

  • Most polyols are made from glucose or glucose syrups (from starch); others from sucrose (cane or beet), lactose (milk), or xylose (wood)  

  • Most polyols are less sweet than table sugar; their sweetness varies from 25% to almost 100% as sweet as sugar

  • Due to polyols reduced sweetness, compared to table sugar, they are often blended with high intensity sweeteners.

How are Polyols Different than other Carbohydrates?


  • Being slow-, low-, or non-digestible carbohydrates, they contribute about half the calories of table sugar or even less

  • Most polyols are converted very slowly into glucose, not causing a sudden increase in blood sugar (erythritol is an exception)

  • They are incompletely or not digested at all and so, reach the large intestine, where they are at least partially fermented by microbes

  • If too much polyol reaches the large intestine, it may act osmotically by drawing water from the body, resulting in loose stools

  • As a result, excessive consumption symptoms include digestive discomfort, bloating, stomach rumble, flatulence, and diarrhea

  • These effects vary from person to person, being more common in unaccustomed consumers as adaptation may happen over time 

  • Sweeteners with sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning on their label stating “excess consumption may have a laxative effect

  • Polyols do not react with bacteria in the mouth and so, do not cause tooth decay; sweetener label may carry health claims stating so

  • Promoted as the the go-to sweet ingredient if you want to add bulk (weight and volume) to reduced-sugar or sugar-free recipes 

  • Replacing a portion of a recipe's sugar with a polyol reduces total calories, without losing bulk, but also reduces the sweetness.

Glycemic Index of Polyols


  • The glycemic index (GI) of polyols is the potential they have to increase blood glucose levels; pure glucose has an arbitrary GI of 100

  • Polyols are carbohydrates that break down slowly during digestion, releasing glucose slowly in the bloodstream, and so have low GI

  • From the University of Sidney Glycemic Index database, the GI of xylitol = 7, maltitol = 26, isomaltulose = 32, and lactitol = 3 

  • Sorbitol (GI = 9) and mannitol (GI = 2)​ are metabolized by the liver, mostly as fructose, which is converted to glucose without insulin

  • Erythritol is an exception among polyols as it is absorbed but not metabolized into glucose and so has a GI = 0.

There is A LOT to see here.

Scroll down to explore it all or, if you are short on time, make your choice below: 

Erythritol is a polyol or sugar alcohol - a type of carbohydrate that, unlike sugar, is digested slowly. It is less sweet than sugar (~70% the sweetness of regular sugar), and require a 'laxation claim' in food labels. Is offered as a natural sweetener as is produced by natural fermenation process. It is considered a low-calorie sweetener as it provides 0.2 kcal/g.
Xylitol-based Sweeteners. Xylitol is a polyol or sugar alcohol - a type of carbohydrate that, unlike sugar, is digested slowly, having little impact on blood sugar or insulin levels. Xylitol provides about half the calories of regular sugar (sucrose). Xylitol is the sweetest of the polyols and is as sweet as sucrose.
Sorbitol | Mannitol | Isomalt
Sorbitol and mannitol were the first polyols to become available as sweeteners.

Both are about half as sweet as table sugar.
Sorbitol provides about 8 calories per teaspoon (3g).
Mannitol provides about 7 calories per teaspoon (4g).
Show More

Click the Try it button of each sweetener to be linked to Amazon

where you can read reviews, labels, Q&As, and price.



  • Erythritol is found naturally in some foods (fruits, mushrooms, fermented foods) however, due to being available only in tiny amounts ...

  • The store-bought erythritol is a synthetic sweetener produced via fermentation or an electrochemical process

  • 60 to 70% as sweet as table sugar, so expect to add more and pay a much higher price than table sugar to get the same sweetness

  • To compensate for the reduced sweetness, is often combined with high intensity sweeteners (stevia, monk fruit, sucralose)

  • When eaten in powder form, erythritol creates a cooling sensation as it dissolves in the mouth, referred to as a cooling effect

  • To minimize the cooling effect, is often blended with other low-digestible sweeteners (polyols & soluble fibers such as inulin, FOS)

  • The caloric value per gram is close to zero (0.4 cal), being promoted as a calorie-free sweetener (1.2 to 1.6 cal/tsp)

  • Most of the erythritol you consume is not digested and so, is excreted unchanged, without any decomposition, through urine

  • 10 to 40% of the erythritol ingested reaches the large intestine, where it is fermented by gut microbes and so, contribute energy

  • Excessive intake of pure erythritol on an empty stomach and without any other food may cause bloating, cramps, and laxative effects. 



  • Also known as 'birch sugar', xylitol is found naturally in a variety of fruits and vegetabl; due to being available only in a tiny amount ...

  • The store-bought xylitol is a synthetic sweetener produced from the 2nd most abundant polysaccharide in nature, hemicellulose

  • Xylitol is converted from xylose, a sugar isolated from hemicellulose; most common sources of xylose are birch wood & non-GMO corn

  • Xylitol from birch wood and non-GMO corn are chemically identical; products from corn are from China and tend to be less expensive

  • It is as sweet as table sugar (1:1 sugar substitute) and also looks a lot like it; has the most pronounced cooling effect of all polyols

  • 25 to 50% of the xylitol you eat is aborbed in the small intestine; the caloric value per gram is 2.4 cal or 10 cal/ tsp (4g)

  • It is slowly absorbed in the small intestine. Being converted slowly into glucose, it does not cause a sudden increase in blood sugar.

  • 50 to 75% of the ingested xylitol passes intact into the large intestine, where is fermented by the microbiota (health beneficial microbes)

  • Excessive intake of xylitol may cause flatulence, bloating, stomach rumble, cramps, and laxative effects 

  • Like all polyols, does not promote cavities (non-cariogenic); unique to xylitol is a cariostatic effect, as it staves harmful mouth bacteria

  • It is life-threatening to dogs, causing staggering, collapse, and seizures due to rapid decrease in their blood sugar; learn more here.



  • Sorbitol & mannitol were the first polyols to become available as sweeteners; suited for sugar free recipes, they attracted diabetics  

  • They are found in nature, but the store-bought sorbitol and mannitol are synthetically produced from glucose and fructose, respectively

  • The most common and more cost-effective raw materials for both polyols is either cornstarch or glucose syrups

  • Sorbitol is used in sugar-free table syrups, such as pancake or waffle syrups, where it is combined with high intensity sweeteners

  • Sorbitol is also available in powder form; mannitol is sold only in powder due to its low solubility (only 22g dissolves in 100mL water)

  • Sorbitol has affinity for water and absorbs humidity from its surrounding (very hygroscopic); mannitol is the least hygroscopic polyol

  • Isomalt is another polyol, made from refined sugar (sucrose), available as granules or as a fine powder; often used for candy making

  • According to the FDA regulation for nutrition labels, one gram of sorbitol provides 2.6 cal or about 8 cal per teaspoon (3g)

  • Mannitol provides 1.6 calories per gram or about 7 calories per teaspoon (approximately 4 grams)

  • Isomalt provides 2.0 cal per gram or about 12 cal per teaspoon (about 6g); when in nib form it provides 10 cal per nib (about 5g)

  • Sorbitol has a strong cooling effect when placed in water or in the mouth; isomalt has the least cooling effect of all three

  • Sorbitol, mannitol and isomalt are about half as sweet as table sugar; i.e., 1 tsp sugar = 1/2 tsp of these polyols.


Copyright © 2020   WhatSugar Blog | By Adriane Mulinari Campos 

Everywhere in the USA | Based in Richmond,VA | Email me at info@whatsugar.com

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