Is Maltitol A Good Sugar Alternative?

cupcakes!We all know that refined and artificial sugars are one of the worst foods for our bodies, and especially for our skin, which is frustrating because sugar is in just about everything. And then of course if you’re a sugar addict like me, it takes a lot of willpower to try and ignore those sweet food cravings and eat something healthy instead.

I have a bit of a habit of reading the ingredients list on ‘treats’ in health food stores. It’s rare that I find a product that does not contain any refined, cane or artificial sugars, but I’m always hopeful. Keep in mind that just because you find a product in a health food store, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Health food stores usually stock milk-free and gluten-free products as well, which are good for allergies but often still high in refined sugars.

I keep reading Maltitol in these ingredients lists …

Maltitol is an artificial sweetener which I’ve seen in just about every ‘sugar-free’ chocolate, ice-cream and cookie in North America. While Maltitol is very rarely found in foods in Australia, it seems to be incredibly popular here in Canada and the U.S.

When I first saw maltitol listed in the ingredients on a food packet (I think it was chocolate), I memorized the spelling and did a quick Google search for it when I got home. I came up with fairly average results – I didn’t find any strong evidence that maltitol is bad for you, but I didn’t find any glowing health reports either. I also had a strong intuitive feeling that maltitol is not that great an ingredient for my body, so I avoided consuming it.

So, after months of continuously reading maltitol in sugar-free foods and avoiding them, I felt like it was about time that I got to the bottom of this. What exactly is maltitol, why is it so popular and is it a good or bad sweetener?

What is Maltitol

maltitolMaltitol is a carbohydrate that comes from the sugar alcohols family – sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, erythritol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates – which are all manufactured from the starch of corn. It has about 75-90% of the sweetness of sugar. So often in production of sweet foods, a little more maltitol is needed than sugar.

Maltitol is not a natural product

It’s important to keep in mind that maltitol along with its sugar alcohols family, is not a natural product. It does require processing and fermenting of the corn starch to make it into a sweetener able to be used in foods.

And a little more research easily finds a verdict …

What I personally feel is misleading, is how these ‘health’ products claim to be sugar free when clearly they’re not. While powdered maltitol has a lower glycemic index (36) than cane sugar (60), it’s glycemic index is still not THAT low. And maltitol syrup actually has a very high glycemic index of 52.

I also don’t think you can class maltitol as a beneficial or health food like you can with natural sweeteners, considering maltitol is a highly processed food source that contains little nutrients, or even no nutritients at all. I was not able to find a single source on the web that listed the nutritional value of maltitol. So I’m assuming, like refined cane sugar, maltitol is an empty carboydrate that contains no nutritional value at all.

I hate the idea of putting anything into my body that contains no nutritional value. My body is going to have to go through all of that hard work and energy digesting the ‘food’ for nothing in return.

Maltitol also very slowly absorbs into the body so can have a laxative effect, causing gas, bloating and in some case diarrhea.

maltitol can cause gastric discomfort

So the verdict? Well considering maltitol impacts blood sugar, can cause extensive gastric discomfort and contains no nutritional value, there’s no way I’m going anywhere near it. If you’re really desperate for that sweet taste and fruit just isn’t cutting it, personally I’d go for organic sugar or cane sugar before maltitol.

The importance of natural sugars in our diet

Don’t get me wrong, while refined, processed and artificial sugars are bad, we still do need a small amount of sugars and ‘sweet’ taste in our diet to be healthy. However, these sugars and this sweet taste needs to come from natural sources that are full of beneficial nutrients – like raw honey, maple syrup, agave and of course, fresh fruits.

24 comments… add one

  • This is a great article. I was recently fooled by a ‘health food’ dessert manufacturer that had the nerve to call his treats, “No Sugar Added Cheesecake,” (Pearl River Pastries). I recognized all ingredients except maltitol. The idea of maltitol seems really shady, and I think it’s way to processed to be good for you. Thanks for confirming my hunch.
    Paula Lopez

  • Carolyn

    Same with me. I was having terrible stomach pains and heartburn from having ice cream every evening “sugar free Edys” I thought I was lactose intolerant and then discovered it was made from malitol. I have thrown out all the choc in the house that has it in it. Pain is gone!
    Carolyn gold

  • elle

    And agave is actually not good for you. It has a higher fructose content than commercial / cane sugars, and thus really spikes your GI.

  • elle

    I realize this is an old thread, but I just have to comment. Firstly, maltitol and xylitol are from the same “family” of sweeteners. They are BOTH sugar alcohols. Maltitol is no more “artificial” than is xylitol. Xylitol is no more “natural” than maltitol. Secondly, maltitol can be made from starches other than corn, wheat and barley, for example. The possible laxative effect is mostly seen with corn-derived maltitol. With wheat-derived maltitol, you would have to eat over 100g. to *maybe* see any such effects (and the gluten can be washed out). Eating that much is *over-eating”, which can cause intestinal issues with many of what you’re calling “natural” sweeteners and foods. Eat a comparable amount of grapes, or dried fruit, or apples, and it may not be pleasant. You are advising people based on your “intuitions” and “assumptions” as though these are facts. They are not. You recommend xylitol which, again, is from the same family of “sugar alcohols”. Xylitol has the benefit of not causing, and perhaps helping prevent, tooth decay. It can also have the laxative effect. It is deadly if your dog gets ahold of it. Your “reasoning” here is, well, very weak. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

  • Ray

    Sorbitol has the same nasty side effects on the tummy and what is so strange surgar free Tums and others use Sorbitol in their antacids. Does not make sense!?!?! I wish they would change to something that does not make you sick after eating it.

  • Hi, Thanks for the article.
    I just wanted to share with you and your readers that Agave is not as it seems…”Sadly, agave nectar is neither truly raw, nor is it all natural.” http://www.foodrenegade.com/agave-nectar-good-or-bad/

    ~S

  • Graham

    I am type 2 diabetic and was seeing a medical Professor for some time for my diabetes. The one very good piece of news I got from him was that strawberries in ones diet are unlimited as they have virtually zero sugar in them. Who does not like them?

  • Kat

    For Canadians you can buy Stevia relatively cheaply at Shopper’s Drug Marts with their own Life brand. Worth checking out. Comes in bulk or little handy packets.

  • Liiniez

    JJJones, FYI, gum chewing of ANY sort causes gas because you are swallowing air when you chew it. When I realized that, along with damaging my teeth, I stopped chewing it years ago.

  • Big Kitty

    I think I would rather not let my liver have to process yet one more unnatural product like maltitol. It really does act as a laxative in my recent experience eating some chocolate containing it. I think i will just stick to agave syrup and fruit and real sugar on a rare occassion.

  • It’s a shame, I had some sugar free chocolate containing maltitol and was overjoyed that it didn’t taste nasty and chemically like aspartame or sucralose. But I looked it up on wikipedia, and as you say, it’s about equivalent to eating 1/2 as much sugar. Nothing like aspartame which is like 1/200 as much, so I’m surprised they’re allowed to proclaim “Sugar Free” on maltitol products. Lies! Well, half lies!

    But arguing whether it’s natural is kind of silly since nothing we eat is natural besides raw food, and cooking – which chemically alters food – is something we’ve been doing for so long it is literally in our genes. Worrying about getting the runs from sugar substitutes is hypochondriac talk. We ingest minor poisons every day without knowing – that’s what your liver is for!

  • Peggy

    i ate 4 chocolates last night that were made with Maltitol and i thought my insides were going to come out a few hours later! I will never eat anything made with this stuff again, I’d rather eat 2 regular chocolates. It was truly awful, and I NEVER get an upset digestive system! This stuff should be illegal.

  • Hi Sheri, have you experimented much with Xylitol and Stevia? Two great sweeteners that are great for diabetics too!

  • Sheri

    Unfortunately, people with diabetes can’t choose sugar or fruit or other carbs over the sugar-free malitol imbued stuff when we want something sweet but our blood sugar is running high. Like anything else when it comes to eating right, moderation and portion size are key.

    My diabetes has recently changed it’s pattern and my blood sugar is extremely high — higher than it ever was. I’m waiting to see a specialist in a few days, but in the meantime i have to avoid all carbs including fruit — except lemons — and avoid all starches as well.

    So, a handful of sugar-free gummy bears tastes like heaven to me right now! However, I know to only have one portion, because if I have any more the absolutely terrible “laxative effects” do kick in! Yeah, moderation!

  • hmmm … I guess you’d like the link as well … duh! … http://www.raisin-hell.com/2008/11/sorbitol-maltitol-mannitol-and-isomalt.html

  • Fran … you might be interested in this item on how our bodies metabolise maltitol …

    Cheers
    David.

  • LFields

    Well i have recently just started trying to eat organic foods and choose healthier options at the shops. I bought a sugar-free organic chocolate bar amongst all the products i was trying out. And it tasted just like normal chocolate except under nutritional information it only had 8g sugar! under all the ingredients a noticed that the one ingredient not organic was maltitol and decided to google it. Im so disappointed to dicover that it’s a bad option too. Being healthy is so much harder than i thought. Will just have to cut out those kind of treats all together. Thanks for the investigating!

  • JJJones

    I have suffered from very painful gas for years and only recently – through some divine inspiration — realized that the problem might be the maltitol/mallitol in the sugarless gums I chew on much of the time. I cut out the gum this week and voila! No gas. No bloating. No pain. And in general feeling much better. Unbelievable.

  • I’ve been using stevia myself for the last 18 months. When I first started, I wasn’t keen on the taste, it seemed very tart compared to sugar. If you get it on your fingers and then lick them, it practically blows your head off. :D After a few days of regular use, I didn’t notice it anymore and wouldn’t go back to sugar now.

    It took me a while to figure out the right quantity to use as it’s very strong and only a tiny amount is needed. I shortened a drinking straw and cut it lengthways into a scoop shape and use that to pick it up instead of a spoon. It allows me finer control over how much to use. I keep the homemade scoop inside the tub.

    One great thing about stevia is that it lasts absolutely ages so it’s very economical – I’m still using the same small tub that I bought when I started! I use it 2-3 times per day in either coffee, hot chocolate or herbal tea and sometimes on cereal.

  • Eddie- What you REALLY need to look out for with ‘sugar-free’ foods is the artificial sweetener aspartame which is extremely bad for you. Anything that tastes sweet has either some type of sugar or an artificial sweetener. Tell your friend she can get healthier gum sweetened with xylitol at most health food stores. Spry is the best brand I’ve found.

    Ky- Stevia is a great product. I have trouble with the taste but if it’s used well you can’t notice the chemical flavor. I haven’t heard of crystalline fructose.

  • Ky

    Have you read or heard anything about stevia or crystalline fructose? I’ve done internet searches on them, but what do you think about them Fran? Thanks!

  • Eddie

    I saw that my friend had a pack of “sugarless gum” in her car today and i randomly started looking at the ingredients and Maltitol was in there. Actually, it was among the first 3 or 4 ingredients. Does this mean even though some types of gum claim to be “sugarfree” they really aren’t? I should go on the cave man diet lol. You can eat anything you want as long as it’s not man made. So pretty much just raw organic foods. Seems healthy enough…

  • I’ve never looked out for this ingredient before, but I’ll be sure to do so from now on. Thank you for investigating. :)

    Kevin – that’s very interesting regarding the spots. I’m definitely going to have a look and see if this stuff is lurking in anything I already own. I do tend to suffer from spots that take a while to clear up.

  • kevin

    Oh wow, this article was really informing. I did notice that any spots you have can take a considerably longer amount of time to go away when you consume maltitol. So many people consume it thinking it’s a healthy alternative for sugar including myself.

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