Explaining Sugar Alcohols

WHO GIVES A $H*T ABOUT SUGAR ALCOHOLS?

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YOU. That's who. Because big corporations are trying to pull the wool over your eyes to sell you low carb products, when in actual fact they are sneaking in calories without having to include it in the macro panel.

This topic was mentioned by Coach Dean during his second guest appearance on the Mind Muscle Project podcast, episode 165 'the real power of carbohydrates'.

So let's take a closer look and start from the beginning.

What are they?

Where can we find them?

What does this mean for your macros?


Alright. Let's dive in...

Sugar alcohols come from plant products such as fruits and berries. The carbohydrate in these plant products is altered through a chemical process, creating sugar alcohols.

They are chemically different from carbs, fats and protein and therefore are not listed as either of these 3 macronutrients on a nutrition panel but do contribute to calories. We can account for these calories in carbs or fats, with the preference being carbs.

But what products contain sugar alcohols?

The most commonly used sugar alcohols are:

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  • Sorbitol

  • Glycerol

  • Mannitol

  • Xylitol

  • Maltitol

  • Maltitol syrup

  • Lactitol

  • Erythritol

How many calories do they yield?

Their calorie content ranges from zero to four calories per gram so as an average and for simplicity sake, let's say each gram of sugar alcohol carries 2 calories per gram. Some examples of products with sugar alcohols are Queen's sugar-free maple syrup and Aussie Bodies Lo Carb bars.

We have however included a table with the different sugar alcohols listed along with their energy content per gram and their relative sweetness compared to table sugar as a percentage.

 
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*Please note the first item on the table above is not a sugar alcohol, but rather actual table sugar, which will be included in the carbohydrate total on the nutrition panel. Sucrose was added to this table as a reference point for sweetness and calories.

A CLOSE LOOK AT QUEENS SUGAR-FREE MAPLE SYRUP

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Queens sugar-free maple syrup proudly claims not only their sugar-free status but also 0g protein, 0g fat and less than 1g carbs, so for a flexible dieter who counts their macros, this looks almost too good to be true. 

Wait... turns out it IS too good to be true. 

Sorbitol is clearly stated in the ingredients list (shown below) for queens sugar-free maple syrup, and we know from the table above that sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that carries 2.5 calories per gram. These calories, however, aren't shown in any macros so these calories can go unaccounted for.

AUSSIE BODIES LO CARB BAR

Aussie Bodies Lo Carb Bar is a serious culprit of hiding calories in their bar by choosing to use sugar alcohols instead of other ingredients that would sweeten their bars. The reason for this is to maintain a low carb count on their labels to make the product more appealing to consumers.

 
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We can clearly see above in the nutrition panel 3 types of sugar alcohols and that is: 

  • Sorbitol 3.4g 

  • Maltitol 2.7g 

  • Glycerol 1.9g

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Ok so. We now know what they are, what products to find them in and how to figure out how much a product has.

NOW WHAT? 
Well, as obedient flexible dieters who understand the pyramid of importance for weight manipulation, we know we need to account for these sneaky calories by 'counting' them within our macros and here is how we recommend to do it:

Taking the first example, there are 15.4 g sugar alcohols per 100 g of syrup so to find the calories from this we need to do the following equation:


15.4 x 2 = 30.8 calories…. let's say 31

(15.4g sugar alcohol x 2 calories as we have averaged out sugar alcohols to be 2cals per gram)

If you're to consume 100g of this product we are to ‘fit’ these 31 calories into either carbs or fats, preferably carbs - just like we would do with alcohol from alcoholic beverages.

- To add these 31 calories to carbs the equation would look like this:
31 / 4 = 8

31 (calories) divided by 4 (as there are 4 calories to each gram of carbs) = 8 (grams of carbs)

- To add these 31 calories to fat the equation would look like this:
31 / 9 = 3

31 (calories) divided by 9 (as there are 9 calories in each gram of fats) = 3 (grams of fats)

Let’s say we want to add those extra 31 calories to carbs (8g) the new macros per 100g for this product would look like this; 

- 0 g protein
- 0 g fat
- 8 g carbs
- 0 g fibre

And that's it. EASY AS THAT!

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So next time you're logging your food into your food diary, be it MFP or other, be sure to account for the sugar alcohols in your macros as to not accidentally over consume on calories and give you the best chance of success. 

What's the point of setting a calorie target then splitting this into macros if we are over consuming calories because we ignore sugar alcohols?

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Final note

Flex success has also found that people commonly suffer from digestive stress when sugar alcohols are consumed, with symptoms including: 

  • Bloating

  • Gas

  • Diarrhoea

  • Stomach cramps

So as it turns out, those low-carb bars might not be as good as they appear on the surface. In fact, protein bars are perhaps the biggest culprits when it comes to packaged foods.

And let's be real for a second... 

Even if you are to account for calories from sugar alcohols in your macros, you're going to have to risk the digestive upsets and let's face it, nobody wants to be gassy.


Diet Smart. Not Hard

Coach: Lizzy