Maltitol: Do the Side Effects Outweigh the Benefits?

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MaltitolIf you’re looking at the ingredient label of many “sugar-free” baked goods or sweets, you may see maltitol, a sugar alcohol that’s commonly added to foods.

Like many artificial sweeteners, maltitol contains fewer calories than table sugar, and it has a lower glycemic index score.

But is it safe? It’s used in a range of food and medicine products, including maltitol keto snacks, sugar-free gum and candies, and medicine capsules.

Well, after reading about the potential side effects of this artificial sweetener, you may want to choose a different sugar substitute going forward.

What Is Maltitol?

Maltitol is a disaccharide sugar alcohol that’s almost as sweet at sugar, but contains fewer calories and has a lower glycemic index.

It’s derived from maltose by dehydrogenation, which is a chemical reaction that involves the removal of hydrogen. Maltitol is obtained from starch, so it’s considered a carbohydrate.

Sugar alcohols are commonly used in the manufacturing of foods, oral hygiene products, and medicines. In cooking, it’s used as a low-calorie sweetener, as it has about half the calories of sucrose or table sugar.

In medicine, it’s used as an excipient and plasticizer in gelatin capsules, and it’s also used as an emollient (skin soother) in hygiene products.

Potential Benefits

Compared to table sugar, or sucrose, there may be some potential maltitol benefits, including the following:

1. Fewer Calories

Maltitol is commonly used as a sugar substitute because it shares many properties with sugar but has almost half the calories. One gram of sugar contains four calories, while a gram of maltitol includes 2–3 calories.

Maltitol is almost as sweet as sugar, about 90 percent as fresh, so you’ll see it on the ingredient label of “low calorie,” “sugar-free,” and even “keto-friendly” products.

Keep in mind, because maltitol isn’t exactly as sweet as sugar, if you end up using more of the sugar alcohol to get the same sweetness, you may end up consuming just as many calories as you would if you just used table sugar.

2. Lower Glycemic Index

Maltitol has a lower glycemic index than sugar, so it causes a slower rise in blood sugar and insulin levels.

This can be helpful for people with diabetes.

However, the sugar alcohol does impact blood glucose, so you still need to monitor your levels, even after eating a “sugar-free” food containing maltitol.

Comparing the glycemic index of table sugar, which is 60 — the glycemic index of maltitol syrup is 52, and maltitol powder is 35.

These are lower numbers than sugar, but still high enough to affect your blood sugar levels.

The maltitol glycemic index is higher than other low carb sweeteners, so keep that in mind if you have diabetes and consuming this sugar alcohol.

3. May Support Dental Health

Research suggests that chewing gum with maltitol may support dental health by reducing gingivitis and bacterial growth.

More studies are needed to understand the potential benefits fully, but this sugar alcohol may help to prevent dental plaque and cavities, unlike table sugar.

Risks and Side Effects

The FDA has categorized maltitol as “generally recognized as safe,” but there is a warning about its laxative effects when ingested by adults at levels above 100 grams per day.

Research confirms that consuming excessive amounts of maltitol can cause gastrointestinal issues, including:

  • abdominal discomfort
  • diarrhea
  • flatulence
  • bloating
  • cramping

If you are using maltitol as a lower-calorie sweetener, start with small quantities to avoid adverse maltitol side effects.

Some people may be more sensitive to this sugar alcohol than others, so you’ll want to rule out digestive complaints.

It’s also worth repeating that if you’re using the low-carb sweetener to support weight loss or regulate blood sugar levels, you need to be careful of your intake.

It’s not as sweet as table sugar, so if you over-consume maltitol to find the same sweetness, you’ll be ingesting just as many calories as sugar.

And although the low-calorie sweetener has a lower glycemic index than sugar, it’s not zero, so it can still impact blood sugar levels.

A special note to dog owners: Processed food products made with sugar alcohols are toxic to dogs.

Avoid keeping low-calorie candies, baked goods, or breath mints in places that can be reached by your pup.

Foods

What foods contain maltitol? The sugar alcohol can be found in processed foods, including:

  • Sugar-free gum
  • Sugar-free baked goods and snacks
  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream and dairy desserts
  • Cake frosting and fondant
  • Energy bars
  • Chewing gum

Keep in mind that this sugar alcohol isn’t always listed as “maltitol” on product ingredient lists. It can also be listed as sugar alcohol, sorbitol, and xylitol.

When looking at maltitol vs. xylitol, the latter is a term used for sugar alcohols and can be used on an ingredient label in place of maltitol.

You probably won’t see maltitol syrup or powder in the baking aisle of your grocery store, unlike some other low-calorie sweeteners.

It’s more likely to be used during the manufacturing phase of sugar-free products, baked goods, candies, and snacks.

It’s also used in dental hygiene products, like chewing gum, and in medicines as an excipient (used as a vehicle for a drug) and plasticizer in gelatin capsules.

Healthier Alternatives

If you’re prone to choose food products or recipes containing sugar-free alternatives, there are healthier options than maltitol that don’t come with the potential of digestive disturbances.

Some of the best natural sweeteners include:

  • Stevia: Stevia is a natural zero-calorie sweetener that has a zero on the glycemic index. This is a safe choice for people with diabetes and those who must work to regulate their blood sugar levels. It’s also an excellent alternative for people following a low-sugar or low-carb diet.
  • Erythritol: Like stevia, erythritol is a better keto sweetener and low-calorie sweetener than maltitol because it measures as zero on the glycemic index scale, and it contains zero calories.
  • Monk fruit: While maltitol is only 90 percent as sweet as table sugar, monk fruit is said to be 300–400 times sweeter than sugar. Plus, it has zero calories and no effect on blood sugar levels. You can find a monk fruit extract at health food stores.

Final Thoughts

  • Maltitol is a sugar alcohol that’s almost as sweet at sugar, but contains nearly half the calories and has a lower glycemic index.
  • The low-carb sweetener may be helpful for people with diabetes or on a low-carb diet when it’s up against table sugar, but there are healthier natural sugar alternatives on the market.
  • When looking at maltitol vs. stevia, for example, the latter is a natural source of sweetness that contains zero calories and has a zero on the glycemic index scale.
  • To avoid this artificial sweetener, that can lead to digestive disturbances when consumed in excess, limit your consumption of processed foods, especially those that are marketed as “sugar-free.”