Sugar alcohols: What you need to know about them and why they are used in protein bars?

Sugar alcohols: What you need to know about them and why they are used in protein bars?

If you ever looked on the back of a protein bar, you’ve probably seen the words sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols are used in many processed foods and products. For example, cookies, gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, protein bars etc. Contrary to popular belief Sugar alcohols are found naturally in some fruits, and vegetables and are not the same as artificial sweeteners. They can be manufactured like artificial sweeteners but are mostly used from there natural sources. Unlike most artificial sweeteners that don’t have such a good reputation, sugar alcohols are natural.

an image of the chemistry make-up of sugar alcohols.

Why do you find sugar alcohols in protein bars?

A pic of protein bars with sugar alcohols in them, approx: 7 bars in this picture.

Well, one of the main reasons sugar alcohols are used in protein bars is because they maintain the moisture and texture of the protein bar, preventing them from becoming hard. Corn or rice syrups and fats can also be used to prevent protein bars from hardening but by using them they would in turn add a lot of refined sugars and fats to the bar. So, sugar alcohols keep the calories low in the protein bar and prevent the hardening of the bar. The way in which sugar alcohols keep protein bars from hardening, is sugar alcohols create a strong bond with water molecules, so they keep moisture from evaporating not allowing the protein bars to become hard. Otherwise, you would be eating a rock- hard protein bar in just a few hours after it is made. Not Ideal especially since protein bars are meant to have a long shelf life.

Sugar alcohols are pretty low in calories compared to regular sugar. Sugar alcohols on average supply two calories per gram, whereas regular sugar supplies four calories per gram. This is also why they are used in protein bars since protein bars are usually consumed by people into fitness and people that are watching their calories. On the other hand, Although, sugar alcohols are a great alternative to regular sugar, too much sugar alcohol can cause diarrhea, bloating, and cause a laxative effect on the body. Current recommendations advise that moderate doses of sugar alcohol of 10-15 grams per day are usually well tolerated. But for example, there are protein bars like the detour lean muscle protein bar that has 27 grams of sugar alcohols, that’s a bit much. It has a high amount of protein which is good, but it can definitely cause some stomach issues. Which is something you need to look out for.

More Benefits of Sugar Alcohols

Another reason sugar alcohols are used in protein bars is that they have a low glycemic index between 0-36, whereas regular sugar has a glycemic index of 100 (having a low-glycemic index all ties into why it’s so low in calories). Although protein bars still have simple sugars and fats in them, sugar alcohols bring down the curve a little bit and prevent protein bars from being much higher in fats and calories. Sugar alcohols have a lower glycemic index because they aren’t easily absorbed or digested by the body.

Low- glycemic foods are considered to have a rating below 55. Just a little side note low-glycemic foods aren’t quickly absorbed by the body, meaning they give your body more time to burn the food as energy before it is stored as fat like high glycemic foods. So low glycemic foods are better in the weight control department.

When looking at a protein bar or other product nutrition facts, sugar alcohols are included in the total carbohydrates part of the nutrition facts, adding to the total carbohydrates of the bar or product. Sugar alcohols are often less sweet than regular sugar, so they are not necessarily considered an intense sweetener like artificial sweeteners. They are known to feed the friendly bacteria in your gut and have a prebiotic effect.

Many rat studies suggest that xylitol the most common type of sugar alcohol can increase bone volume and mineral content in the bone.  Also, Xylitol is also known to increase collagen production which is great. Also, sugar alcohols don’t contain ethanol, so they don’t necessarily contain alcohol as the name suggests. So, contrary to popular belief sugar alcohols are pretty good after all, not like the name suggests when you see it behind a product nutrition facts label.

In summary, sugar alcohols are used in protein bars for their lower calorie benefits and for their preserving benefits. Also, they aren’t as unhealthy as many people would think, much research suggests that sugar alcohols only lead to diarrhea, bloating, flatulence and not much beyond that. No other research suggests that sugar alcohols cause anything more than those symptoms which are great. Whereas artificial sweeteners have a long list of issues that could arise. So just remember sugar alcohols aren’t bad for you just keep in mind the daily recommendations not to cause any symptoms and you should be alright. If you want some protein bars high in protein, pretty lean and with an appropriate amount of sugar alcohols.

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My name is Bryan Baez. I am a fitness enthusiast. I intensively study and write about nutrition and health related topics. I also own a healthy vending machine company, called Stay Healthy Vending Miami. Check us out at https://stayhealthyvendingmiami.com/.

3 Comments

  1. Hi there! Tina, you probably know this because of sweet Murph…but dog owners please be aware that xylitol is deadly poisonous for dogs! So if you’ve got a countersurfer, cabinet opener, etc…keep those bars (toothpaste, whatever) locked high and away.

    1. Thank you! Definitely helpful to know. I personally avoid all artificial sweeteners, so it won’t be an issue with Murphy, but thank you for sharing for other readers!

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