Sorbitol, Maltitol, Mannitol and Isomalt

By November 18, 2008Sugar

I had to perform an intervention this last week-end.  A Sweet Poison fan was overdosing on ‘sugar-free’ treats.  She had in her possession, no less than Kopiko, Licorette and two different varieties of Jols

The well intentioned fructose avoider had obtained all of these sweets from her local pharmacist (a topic for another day) and all of them proudly proclaim that they are “Sugar Free”.  Instead of Sugar they all contain the following goodies:

Jols (raspberry apple) – 39% Sorbitol and 7.5% Maltitol

Jols (cranberry green tea) – 33% Sorbitol and 8.8% Maltitol

Licorette – 39% Sorbitol and 7.5% Maltitol

Kopiko – 64% Isomalt and 20% Maltitol

Isomalt consists of two molecules of glucose joined to a molecule of sorbitol and a molecule of mannitol.  Mannitol is the sugar alcohol of fructose and is metabolised as if it were fructose.

Maltitol is metabolised to glucose and sorbitol.

About 65% of the sorbitol you eat makes it into your bloodstream where it is converted immediately to fructose by your liver.  The other 35% feeds the bacteria in the large intestine resulting in diarrhoea and gas.  This is why it is sometimes an important ingredient in ‘natural’ laxatives and why each of these products bears a warning about a potential ‘laxative effect’.

So when you see Sorbitol on the label, your body sees Fructose, well 65% Fructose anyway.

Which means when you see Maltitol on the label your body sees Glucose (50%) and Fructose (50%).  This is just like sugar only slightly less of it gets absorbed.  You also have the lovely benefit of wind-pain as well (if you eat more than 10-20g of the stuff).

Likewise when you see Isomalt on the label your body once again sees Glucose (50%), Fructose from Sorbitol (25%) and Fructose (25%).  Again just like sugar.

Sure, these products (and many more like them) all have less calories than ones containing equivalent quantities of sugar.  They achieve this because less of the sugar substitute makes it into your bloodstream.  Instead it is feeding the little chaps in your large intestine. 

But at the end of the day if fructose is what you are trying to avoid, you might as well be eating sugar for all you are achieving by eating these products.

People wanting to avoid fructose (and who doesn’t) should avoid products containing sorbitol, isomalt maltitol and mannitol.

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Ruth says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • linda says:

    In the search for a little treat I found “well naturally” sugar free dark chocolate. The sugar content is .03 g and the sweetener is erythritol which appears to be on the acceptable list. Found this in gluten free section of Woolworths.

  • Romester says:

    Hi, I partially do not agree with your post, but this is just my opinion. I believe if Maltitol does not make it into your blood stream, then there is no need for your body to release insulin, which in my opinion is the key to controlling your metabolic rate. Otherwise I agree with the rest of your blog and found it very informative.

  • earthgirl says:

    Glucose raises blood sugar > raises insulin > raises blood fats.

    Maltilol does have lower glucose (GI too) but if you already have sufficient glucose or fats, the liver immediately converts it into triglycerides (fats) which then circulate in the blood before being stored.

    So Maltilol >skips raising insulin > but raises blood fats too (as well as causing other havoc) ….

    this is the same effect as raised insulin.

  • earthgirl says:

    Foods containing this sweetener are invariably processed snack foods ( which should be limited, just like sugar, to occasional use (and knowing that it is at own peril).

    It is a mistake to believe that low GI added ‘sweeteners’ are safe for everyday use, as there is evidence that consuming fructose, or sweeteners that convert to it, has damaging consequences to our health including contributing to the Type 2 epidemic.

    Also our body has messaging systems which control glucose and fats but fructose and polyols bypasses these so they dont register the calories they contain. Which means the body still sends out hunger signals despite that it has now just added to its fat stores 🙁

    Snacking itself raises glucose, raises insulin. We are meant to convert (use) our stores( glycogen and fat) between meals but snacking raises insulin, which prevents those stores from being accessed, and then we double whammy by taking in low GI sweeteners, which cause more hunger….

    In the end hunger is a need for real food- not empty carbs, which are not really empty at all.

    I urge everyone to read Sweet Poison by D Gillespie.

  • earthgirl says:

    Yikes! i did not realise i was at D Gillespie blog …

  • Dan Poulos says:

    Just thought I would give my two cents on this subject since I just found out through a process of elimination that alcohol sugars are the likely cause of the intestinal distress I have suffered from on and off over the last 5-6 years. I would also add the disclaimer that everyone is different so it may not apply to everyone.
    I fasted for a few days to where I felt better, then ate one thing a day until I experienced the distress I was talking about. Actually started with what I imagined was the most likely. First day nothing but New York strip steak. Felt perfectly fine, which means no bloating or internal pain while having healthy bm’s. Second day, potatoes, fine again. Then bread, fine again. Fast forward a week after trying all the usual suspects. Didn’t eat that day with being busy and didn’t really notice since I was feeling good. That evening while cleaning the house I tried some mint snuff (occasional craving after quitting smokeless tobacco a number of years ago) and a few pieces of trident gum afterwards. I wake up at 3 am in agony, bloated stomach and the flank pain that has sent me to the dr many times including 2 er trips. Come to find out the mint snuff uses maltitol syrup to sweeten it and make it stick together. Top two ingredients of the gum are sorbitol and maltitol.
    Avoiding those makes all the difference. I just can’t find a toothpaste that doesn’t have sucralose, xylitol or sorbitol in it. Who would have thought.
    A few thoughts. If alcohol sugars have a laxative effect, would consuming them daily be considered laxative abuse? I was asked by a doctor if I use laxatives too much, after which I was given a script for Nexium, which I threw away.
    Hope that helps someone. So crazy that so called safe/healthy alternatives can cause so much havoc.

  • NC says:

    Dan…not sure if this helps you because it contains grain alcohol (i don’t know if grain alcohol and sugar alcohols are the same), but I use a toothpaste by Weleda. More specifically I use the Salt variety. I was trying to stay away from Fluoride and many of the ones that didn’t contain Fluoride contained SLS and sweeteners so I eventually found Weleda products. It’s definitely nothing like a conventional toothpaste (not thick or foamy) but honestly the only reason why we need those characteristics is because that’s the only kind we know, we’ve been trained to think that those effects constitute clean teeth. Anyway, thought I’d mention it in case you’re still searching for a toothpaste. Also..I was making my own for a while but have been pretty busy lately, basic recipes include baking soda, coconut oil, peppermint oil (not peppermint flavoring), and a sweetener if you need it like stevia. Worth a try…

  • SR says:

    Hi, I am confused by your comments and want to understand the truth. My understanding regarding maltitol is that it has a GI of c. 36 and is low calorie because most of it does not get metabolised and goes straight to the large intestine where the gut bacteria consume it and thus much is excreted. You say that it is converted to glucose and sorbitol (without stating the proportion) and that sorbitol is ‘converted immediately to fructose by the liver’. I went to the book you referenced with this statement and it explains that when sorbitol is taken intravenously (injected), it gets converted to fructose but when taken by the mouth (how most people would consume it), “much apparently escapes intestinal absorption and is fermented in the colon by bacteria into products such as acetate and histamine…” I’m a truth-seeker and think you should clarify your statements or provide more concrete explanation/backing. I’d be happy to read more of the science if you could provide that which you made your conclusion upon. Thank you!

  • Aaron says:

    I agree with the other posters. The article needs clarification in the biochemistry department especially metabolism and fate. I think, due to the seemingly overwhelming amount of bad dietary information available, that people would benefit from seeing how you arrived at your conclusions because it isn’t completely clear to me either after reading the cited articles. Also, it seems like the assumption was made that consumers would not only not follow but also grossly exceed the recommended serving size. Personally I have no difficulty doing so, but is there any reliable data available on how the general population tends to consume the treats? If you are destined to go overboard on them what is the best choice? That would be an interesting question to tackle. This has the makings of a useful article but I think the confusion of the readers diminishes from its conclusion. Nevertheless, it is still a cut above your average internet nutritional article. I hope you can out the time in for some more exposition.

  • […] que otras como dicen que el maltitol SE METABOLIZA como glucosa y sorbitol. El problema con el dichoso sorbitol […]

  • […] who doesn’t) should avoid products containing sorbitol, isomalt, maltitol and mannitol’ (Gillespie, n.d.). Sarah Wilson simply calls chocolate sweetened with Maltitol ‘bad’ (Wilson, […]

  • […] who doesn’t) should avoid products containing sorbitol, isomalt, maltitol and mannitol’ (Gillespie, n.d.). Sarah Wilson simply calls chocolate sweetened with Maltitol ‘bad’ (Wilson, […]

  • Sara says:

    What is your source for fructose conversion of these sugar alcohols?

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