Yesterday I posted the nutrition facts for the 3 Bar that included sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols have a scary name but are not to be feared. According to the label of the 3 Bar, “Sugar alcohols are slow to non-digestible, naturally occurring carbohydrate derived from corn, fruit, berries, Birchwood and other plants. Individuals sensitive to sugar alcohol should avoid excessive consumption.”
‘Why are they non-digestible?’ you may be asking. Likely it is because our bodies do not have an enzyme that can break down that particular type of starch. Sugar alcohols are used to sweeten foods while only adding a fraction of the calories and have a very low glycemic affect. (FYI – they also do not cause tooth decay.) The reason there is a warning for sensitive people is because sometimes if you eat too much, it can cause an upset stomach or bowel issues (temporarily).
To answer another possible question in your mind, ‘Why are they called alcohols?’, we have to go back to chemistry. Most technical food names are based on their chemical structure. For example, carbo-hydrates are a combinations of carbon atoms (carbo) and hydrogen (hydrate). Isn’t that cool? That is why I love science. Anyways, a sugar alcohol, therefore, is a sugar molecule that has additional OH (oxygen and hydrogen) groups on it. This addition makes it difficult to digest.
All in all, I think sugar alcohols are safe to consume in moderate amounts. Too much of them could cause some trouble down south. But do not be afraid when you see them in a product here and there. Here’s a great article from yale that goes into a little more details: http://www.ynhh.org/online/nutrition/advisor/sugar_alcohol.html