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What is sorbitol and why is it used in diet products?

What is sorbitol, you say? Well, sorbitol is a sugar alcohol (or polyol) often used in diet products such as chewing gum, diet drinks and sugar free candy. 


Sorbitol was first documented in 1872 by a French chemist who found the substance in certain types of berries. It has been granted GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by both the FDA and EFSA. Nowadays it is produced on a large scale around the world, through the hydrogenation of glucose. Sorbitol is commercially available in both liquid and powdered formats.

There are some advantages to sorbitol: first of all it absorbs water, which renders it quite useful in the preparation of food types that tend to harden or desiccate, such as chocolate, pastries, cakes and pies. 

It doesn't crystallize (brown) when heatened, like sugar does, and like all sugar alcohols, is good for your teeth because it prevents the formation of bacteria that cause dental plaque - hence its use in chewing gums and toothpastes.


It's actually less sweet than sugar (only 60%), but it contains 25% less calories. The obvious disadvantage to this, is that you'll have to use more of this sweetener in order to achieve the same amount of sweetness as sucrose, which in turn cancels out the advantage of containing fewer calories. 


what is sorbitolAnd because sorbitol is found in many diet products, the recommended daily intake of 10gr per day is often surpassed before you know it. Be critical and check the list of ingredients before you buy diet products. For Europeans: the E-number of sorbitol is E-420.

As with all polyols, various complaints have been reported about gastro-intestinal discomfort, such as bloating, gas and in severe cases, diarrhea. Those prone to similar symptoms should stray away from sugar alcohols, and try the sweet leaf stevia sweetener instead. 

Although sorbitol has a relatively low glycemic index of 9, it still houses too many empty calories. For all these reasons, the sweetener can not be deemed the optimal choice for large scale everyday use. If you are looking for a healthier alternative, we suggest you to take a look at the many benefits of stevia.

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