Use Caution With Maltitol as a Low-Carb Sweetener

Maltitol May Not Be Your Best Option

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

Understanding Maltitol

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol, a type of carbohydrate that is neither sugar nor alcohol and is naturally in some fruits and vegetables.

It's commonly used in low-carb or “sugar-free” products such as candy and nutrition bars because of its similarity to sugar in terms of taste, texture, and interaction with other ingredients. Products that 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 with calories. Our bodies do not absorb all the calories in maltitol, but it still has about 2 to 3 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar. Since maltitol is a carbohydrate and has 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 35, which is still higher than most other sugar alcohols and higher than all artificial sweeteners.

Maltitol is estimated to have around 75 percent to 90 percent of the sweetness of sugar. Information provided by industry groups tends 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 as sugar, which will give you close to the same effect in most other ways (except for dental cavities)—basically making maltitol a more expensive way to sweeten your food.

Common Side Effects of Eating Maltitol 

Some people who eat maltitol, especially in large quantities, 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're concerned you may be sensitive to maltitol, be mindful about 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.

Source:

Kearsley, MW, Boghani, N. Maltitol. In: Alternative Sweeteners. 4th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012. 

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