Sugar alcohol is a kind of carbohydrate which commonly used as a sweetener in foods. Contrary to what the name suggests, sugar alcohol does not contain either sugar or alcohol. However, it is chemically similar to both of these substances in certain ways, which is the reason for its name.
Common sugar alcohols include the following:
- Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine)
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH)
Sugar alcohols are commonly used in processed foods, especially sweet ones. Although there are exceptions (such as sorbitol in imitation crab), they are generally used as alternative sweeteners, since they taste sweet but contain about half of the calories in table sugar. They are also more difficult for the body to break down, so they tend not to cause a glucose rush followed by an insulin rush, as table sugar does. However, because they are difficult to digest, they can also cause indigestion and even have a laxative affect.
Sugar alcohols are also common in commercial baking, since they act as preservatives and unlike table sugar, do not attract moisture. These properties enable products made with sugar alcohols to have a longer shelf life.