The Problem With Maltitol as a Low-Carb Sweetener

Maltitol is often more trouble than it is worth

sugar-free candy
Maltitol is frequently used to sweeten sugar-free candies. Juanmonino/E+/Getty Images

A common question among low-carb dieters is why isn’t their low-carb diet working as well as they think it should be. If you are eating a lot of products with sugar alcohols, such as maltitol, your diet may not be as effective as you would like it to be. Although maltitol doesn’t effect everyone the same way, it has been known to stall many a well-intentioned dieter. Here’s why.

What Is Maltitol?

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol, which is commonly used in low-carb or “sugar-free” products such as candy and nutrition bars.

It is used so much because of its similarity to sugar in terms of taste, texture, and interaction with other ingredients. Products which use maltitol and other sugar alcohols as sweeteners can be called “sugar-free,” despite the fact they can still affect blood sugar. Although claims are often made that maltitol has little impact on blood sugar, that is not the case. 

Maltitol is a carbohydrate. Our bodies do not absorb all the calories in maltitol, but it still provides us with about 2 to 3 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar. Since maltitol is a carbohydrate and provides calories, it also affects blood glucose. 

Comparing Maltitol to Sugar 

Maltitol syrup has a glycemic index of 52, which approaches that of table sugar at 60. The powdered form has a glycemic index of 36, which is still higher than most other sugar alcohols and all artificial sweeteners.

Maltitol is estimated to have around 75 percent to 90 percent of the sweetness of sugar.

Information provided by industry groups tend to give the 90 percent figure, while other sources say 75 percent. If Maltitol has three-fourths of the sweetness of sugar, three-fourths the calories of sugar, and three-fourths the glycemic index of sugar, it isn’t a far leap to the conclusion that you need one-fourth more maltitol to get the same effect of sugar, which will give you close to the same effect in most other ways (except for dental cavities)—basically making maltitol a more expensive sugar.


Common Side Effects of Eating Maltitol 

Some people who eat maltitol may experience intestinal gas and cramping, while others experience more severe cramping and diarrhea. If you decide to eat products with maltitol, start with a small amount and see how you react. If you are concerned you may be sensitive to maltitol, be mindful where and when you eat it. If you experience severe symptoms, try a maltitol alternative or talk to your doctor about your digestive symptoms to rule out any other problems you may be having. 

Maltitol Alternatives

The best alternatives to products with maltitol are usually made with erythritol, often in combination with artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda). But almost any other sugar alcohol is at least a little better than maltitol. You can also use a low-calorie sweetener like stevia, which has less than four calories and zero carbs per packet. Stevia also has a glycemic index of zero, making it a safe choice for diabetics. 

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