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Sorbitol: What? How? Why? And Why Not?

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Sorbitol: What? How? Why? And Why Not? November 27, 2018

What do you do when your sweetest friend is also your greatest enemy? You try to keep a safe distance, don’t you? The same is the case with sugar. In an effort to steer clear of sugar, we have begun looking at alternatives like sugar alcohols. One of the simplest sugar alcohols is sorbitol.

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol present in few foods with fewer calories. Along with taste, sorbitol has a variety of health benefits. It is, hence, used in many sugar-free foods you consume day-in-day-out. To know what they are, and why should you choose sorbitol over sugar, scroll down!

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What Is Sorbitol?

Sorbitol a.k.a. glucitol is a sugar alcohol. It occurs naturally in fruits like apricots, apples, peaches, nectarines, and dates. It can also be produced synthetically from glucose.

The most commonly used polyol in the United States is sorbitol. It is the standard sweetener in several sugar-free chewing gums and over-the-counter medicines. Sorbitol is 60% as sweet as sucrose and is much less expensive than xylitol.

Above all, sorbitol is a low-calorie sweetener with just 2 calories per gram. Only 50%-80% of it is absorbed in the small intestine. The remaining product is broken down by the intestinal bacteria, releasing gases. This is why some might feel bloated after consuming sorbitol regularly (1).

Ironically, sorbitol is harmless for those with diabetes. Sorbitol also has a list of unique benefits. Take a look!

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5 Fascinating Benefits Of Sorbitol

1. Promotes Dental Health

One of the common dental health problems we face is caries. Dental caries is a bacterial disease in which diet is a major etiologic factor. Cutting down on sugar intake has failed as a strategy because people cannot stick to it.

The current solution is substituting sugars with sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol. Sorbitol, like other polyols, cannot be metabolized by many bacterial strains. When you consume foods containing sorbitol, the bacteria in your oral cavity will not be able to metabolize it to survive.

So, dental plaques would become less severe or wouldn’t even form in the first place (2).

2. Eases Constipation

Eases Constipation Pinit

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Sorbitol has a mild laxative effect. Though this property is debatable, it is said that sorbitol can relieve severe constipation. Consuming large amounts, about 7-14 g per day, can ease your bowel movement.

This happens because sorbitol is an osmotic laxative (3). It helps in holding and drawing water in the stools. This helps the stool soften and move easily through the tract.

Since making sorbitol is cheaper and relatively harmless, it can be a low-cost alternative to treat constipation in children and the elderly (3). But do keep in mind that sorbitol may also lead to diarrhea, if used in excess for long periods (2).

3. Ideal Sweetener For Diabetic Individuals

Generally, those who have diabetes are asked to stay away from sugar or glucose. In such cases, using sugar substitutes, like sorbitol, is an excellent way of not missing out on desserts.

Sorbitol is only partially absorbed (about 50%-80%) by the intestine and gets converted to glycogen in the liver. Studies have figured out that sorbitol doesn’t shoot up blood sugar levels. It is also absorbed in an insulin-independent fashion and doesn’t cause concomitant hyperglycemia (like glucose or sucrose).

However, there is no evidence that sugar alcohol-sweetened products have any benefit on long-term glycemic control in people with diabetes (4).

Guess What!

  • Sorbitol gets absorbed better if you take it along with glucose. Consuming sorbitol in a meal works better than taking it as a stand-alone supplement, both orally and intravenously.
  • Almost all the chewable tablets and chewing gums have sorbitol as an added artificial sweetener.
  • There is no evidence that artificially sweetened (with sugar alcohols) products can result in weight loss. They can give you less ‘sugar’ and lesser energy compared to their counterparts.
  • We have inconclusive data about the relationship between sugar intake and weight gain. So, let’s not presume!

4. Protects Your Skin

The human skin maintains an optimal barrier function that varies considerably in humidity. Results from several in-vitro experiments showed that 50 mM sorbitol protected epidermal keratinocytes from osmotic toxicity induced by sodium chloride (in humid conditions) (5).

Sorbitol exhibits significant improvement in both skin barrier repair and moisturization. Studies claim that this healing effect was more pronounced in individuals from dry and arid environmental conditions (5).

This proves that sorbitol can double up as a good skin moisturizer and shield it against harsh climate changes.

5. Cleanses Your Scalp And Hair

Cleanses Your Scalp And Hair Pinit

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Sorbitol is going to be your best friend if you have a scalp that quickly accumulates dirt and grime. The sorbitol molecules in the shampoos bind to the dirt and oil on your scalp. They make dirt more water-soluble and help remove it from the scalp. Sorbitol is, hence, a potent surfactant.

Interestingly, sorbitol can trap and retain water too. In chemical terms, sorbitol is a humectant. Along with washing away the dirt, it can also lock the moisture in your scalp.

So, sorbitol is a mild surfactant that keeps your scalp and hair away from dryness, dirt, and infections (6).

Tell me honestly, don’t you want to switch to sorbitol and chuck sugar immediately?

I almost did. But the ‘wiser me’ prompted me to understand more about the fate of sorbitol in our body. What happens if there’s an overdose of sorbitol? And how much sorbitol can you take in a day?

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How Safe Is Sorbitol As A Sugar Substitute?

There are no major side effects of ingesting small amounts of sorbitol. It is, anyway, used in many desserts and bakery foods.

– But an overdose of sorbitol, about 20g-50g, can lead to severe diarrhea and stomach cramps. In some people, as little as 5g of sorbitol may cause bloating and gastric distress. This is also because sorbitol gets metabolized slowly and is absorbed only partially (7).

– The bigger issue with such artificial sweeteners is carcinogenicity. In the 1970s, saccharin and a bunch of other sweeteners were linked to a number of health problems, including cancer. But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there’s no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems (8).

Psst!

  • Look for sugar alcohols on the ingredient list on a food. Some examples of sugar alcohols are erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol
  • Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Meaning, the closer they are to the beginning of the list, the more of the ingredient is in the food.

 

Well, now that it’s all clear, you can comfortably use sorbitol as a sugar substitute. It is considered safe for all, including diabetic individuals.

Remember, don’t let your daily intake of sorbitol be more than 50 g.

If you wish to avoid sorbitol for obvious reasons, you could try xylitol and mannitol. What work best, at the end of the day, are natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or date syrup.

The Take Home Message…

Gone are those days when people used artificial sweeteners in food and beverages. Sugar alcohols are the new low-cal sugar alternatives in the market.

Sorbitol is one of the simplest, cheapest, and safest sugar substitute. It is metabolized slowly in the small intestine and hence has less effect on the plasma glucose levels.

Which is why sorbitol is safe for everybody – including those with diabetes. Hence, you can choose this sugar alcohol over sucrose, fructose, and other artificial sweeteners.

Tell us how your body responded to sorbitol. Use the comments box below to send your feedback.

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References

  1. Sugar Substitutes” COC, Student Health & Wellness Center
  2. The use of sorbitol- and xylitol-sweetened…” Clinical Practice, Journal of the American Dental Association
  3. Laxative Use: What to Know” Cornell Health, Cornell University
  4. Sugar Alcohols and Diabetes: A Review” Canadian Journal Of Diabetes
  5. Effect of seasonal and geographical differences on skin…” Journal of Cosmetic Science, US National Library of Medicine
  6. Shampoos: Ingredients, efficacy and adverse effects” Journal Der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft
  7. Sugar alcohols” University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
  8. Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer” National Cancer Institute