Consumers say they regularly use low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages to stay in better overall health or simply because they taste good. Many of these products contain ingredients called “sugar alcohols,” frequently referred to as “polyols.” A polyol (or sugar alcohol) is not a sugar, nor an alcohol. Polyols are a group of low-digestible carbohydrates derived from the hydrogenation of their sugar or syrup source (e.g., lactitol from lactose). These unique sweeteners taste like sugar but have special advantages.
There are several polyols used as ingredients in sugar-free foods: erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (including maltitol syrups), isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol.
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In addition to their clean sweet taste and unique functional properties, polyols offer important health benefits. For example, they are reduced in calories and do not cause sudden increases in blood sugar levels. Importantly, polyols are not readily converted to acids by bacteria in the mouth and, therefore, do not promote tooth decay.
Since most polyols are not as sweet as sugar they are often used in combination with approved low-calorie sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium, aspartame, stevia, neotame, saccharin or sucralose. Scientific research supports the fact that these low-calorie sweeteners, like polyols, do not promote tooth decay.