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Are Polyols the Next Best Thing in Reducing Sugar consumption?

Posted on March 10, 2014 by Ruth Buttigieg | 0 comments

With the debate on the ill-health effects of sugar still on-going, many of us have had a hard look at our shopping basket to try and minimise our sugar consumption. In light of our new-found skepticism on the amount of hidden sugars in our diet, many products have tried to clean up their ingredient lists by removing sugar and substituting it for non-sugar ingredients such as polyols. However, are these sugar-substitutes as good as the food industry say they are?

The amount of sugars and hidden sugars in our diet is currently a hot topic in the media. With the detrimental effects of excess sugar consumption on our health becoming ever more apparent, those of us with a sweet tooth have had to make tough decisions on what to put in our shopping basket. However, with a sweet tooth still to satisfy, items labelled sugar-free are steadily becoming a firm favourite.

What are Hidden Sugars?

Hidden sugars are ingredients that have been added to a pre-prepared product to add flavour and texture it. Whilst we are familiar with white granulated sugar as being sugar, we are still unfamiliar with the other names that sugar presents itself in our food.

Here is a list of names that sugar presents itself as in pre-prepared food:






Anhydrous Dextrose


Inverted Sugar

Raw Sugar

Brown Sugar

Confectioner’s powdered sugar

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Corn Syrup

Corn Syrup Solids

Malt Syrup

Maple Syrup

Pancake Syrup

White granulated sugar


Nectars (eg peach nectar, agave nectar, pear nectar, etc)

Sugar-Free Yet Still Sweet

Polyols are becoming a popular ingredient in foods labelled as ‘sugar-free’. Polyols are a group of low digestible carbohydrates. They are easily recognisable in ingredients list due to the suffix ‘-ol’ eg: lactitol, mannitol, etc, the only exception to this rule is the polyol isomalt.  With regards to polyol digestion, humans to do not contain the enzymes necessary to break these down and so are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Due to this, they do not cause a rise in blood sugars and a subsequent insulin response. Hence, on the surface, polyols appear to be low carb friendly.

Published research into the health benefits and effects of polyols are in favour of substituting them for added sugars as they cause less dental caries and are seen as a good method to help tackle the obesity and diabetes epidemic [1].

However, having said this, research has shown that consuming more than 10g of polyols a day can have a laxative effect as well as aggravate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms [2].

Oligofructose - a better option all round

Oligofructose (also known as Fructooligosaccharide [FOS]) is a naturally occurring alternative sweetener. A growing body of evidence continues to show the importance of a healthy gut environment is not only helpful for bowel health but also to enable full absorption of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, through our gut [3]. Studies into the health benefits of oligofructose show that it stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the human gut and hence termed as prebiotics [4].

The use of oligofructose as a natural sweetener offers satisfaction to one’s sweet tooth whilst also avoiding blood sugar spikes and unwanted laxative side effects. It is for this reason that here at Natural Low Carb Store we use only oligofructose in our food, thereby ensuring that the quality of our food is second to none.

Ok, but what about honey and coconut sugar?

Coconut sugar and honey are sometimes seen as ‘healthy’ alternatives to granulated white sugar as they come from natural sources and due to this contain nutrients beneficial to health. Whilst honey and coconut sugar do contain traces of antioxidants, B vitamins, etc, these account for only 5% of total content. The other 95% is made up of a variety of carbohydrates, the main one being fructose. Hence the idea of substituting sugar for honey, may not be the healthiest thing that you can do as in actual fact you have not removed any sugar from your diet.


1.  Geoffrey Livesey (2003). Health potential of polyols as sugar replacers, with emphasis on low glycaemic properties. Nutrition Research Reviews, 16, pp 163-191

2. de Roest, R. H., Dobbs, B. R., Chapman, B. A., Batman, B., O'Brien, L. A., Leeper, J. A., Hebblethwaite, C. R. and Gearry, R. B. (2013), The low FODMAP diet improves gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective study. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 67: 895–903

3. Legette, L. L., Lee, W., Martin, B. R., Story, J. A., Campbell, J. K. and Weaver, C. M. (2012), Prebiotics Enhance Magnesium Absorption and Inulin-based Fibers Exert Chronic Effects on Calcium Utilization in a Postmenopausal Rodent Model. Journal of Food Science, 77: 88–94.

4. Niness K.R. (1999), Inulin and Oligofrucotse: What are They? The Journal of Nutrition, 129:7 1402S-1406S

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