Most of us who’ve been living with diabetes for a while know that eating foods with sugar alcohols can lead to stomach upset. What a lot of us don’t realize is that sugar alcohols are not “free” foods. It’s true that they have fewer calories than sugar, and they aren’t likely to cause a quick surge in blood sugar levels. But they can raise blood glucose levels, and unlike with sugar, for which you can predict the blood glucose spike and bolus for it, in the case of sugar alcohols, it’s very difficult to know what to expect.
To calculate the amount of carbohydrate in a product containing sugar alcohols, the America Diabetes Association recommends the following: If a food has more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols, subtract 1/2 the grams of sugar alcohol from the amount of total carbohydrate, then count the remaining grams of carbohydrate.
For example, if a granola bar has 15 grams total carbohydrate, with 6 grams of sugar alcohol, then one bar counts as 12 grams of carbohydrate (15-3=12).
While this calculation in itself is fairly straightforward, in our experience, getting it ‘right’ with sugar alcohols pretty much never happens. In Mike’s experience, he always has high blood sugar after consuming sugar alcohols. “Don’t ever let me eat this stuff again,” he says. But then along comes a holiday or celebration that involves dessert and out comes the ice cream sweetened with a sugar alcohol. The worst part, Mike says, is that he’s unsatisfied after a sugar alcohol dessert, so just having a few bites of regular dessert would probably be a better and more satisfying choice.
With sugar alcohols, as with many other foods, the blood glucose response varies from person to person. Some people may do very well with them. Others may struggle with blood glucose and gastric symptoms. Your best bet, if it’s chocolate you crave, is to skip the kinds sweetened with sugar alcohols and buy dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) which contains very little sugar.
* Common sugar alcohols include: erythritol, isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol