It is an ingredient often found in low-calorie, sugar-free foods.
But … is it a healthy alternative to sugar? This article will explain what maltitol is, why it is used, and whether you should avoid it.
What is maltitol?
Maltitol is a type of sugar alcohol , also called a polyol, that is used as a sweetener.
It does not contain alcohol in the sense that alcoholic beverages do. Rather, sugar alcohol refers to its chemical structure.
Maltitol is found naturally in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables, chicory leaves, and roasted malt.
It can also be made by adding hydrogen to maltose, a sugar found in starches like corn, potatoes, and wheat. In food processing, it is often made from cornstarch.
Why use maltitol?
Maltitol is a low calorie sweetener used in processed foods and beverages.
It is a useful replacement for table sugar (sucrose) because it is almost as sweet (about 90%), but with fewer calories. Its taste is similar to sucrose as well.
Maltitol can prevent browning and add moisture to processed baked goods. It is sometimes added to chewing gums and candies to create a cooling sensation in the mouth.
Some medications and skin moisturizers also contain maltitol.
Nutritional value of maltitol
Maltitol is a carbohydrate that contains 2.1 calories per gram.
It has fewer calories than most carbohydrates, including regular sugar, which has 4 calories per gram.
Maltitol does not contain vitamins, minerals, or fiber.
Maltitol is a sugar alcohol used as a low-calorie sweetener in processed foods and beverages. Its flavor is similar to sucrose (regular sugar), but contains half the calories. It has no other nutrients.
What foods contain maltitol?
Products labeled “sugar free,” “no added sugar,” or “reduced calorie” often contain maltitol.
It can be found at:
- Sugar-free candies.
- Sugar free chocolate.
- Power bars.
- Baked goods.
- Creams and fruit fillings for baked goods.
- Ice cream.
- Dairy desserts.
Maltitol is often found in low-calorie, sugar-free foods, including candy, chocolate, gum, and ice cream.
Is Maltitol Safe?
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists maltitol as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) substance.
So it is safe for most people. But there are always exceptions of course.
Does maltitol cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems?
Maltitol does not cause any long-term illness, but some people who consume large amounts may experience bloating, gas, or diarrhea .
These gastrointestinal (GI) problems occur because maltitol is not fully absorbed during digestion. Instead, when it reaches the large intestine, it is fermented by bacteria, which can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
The FDA requires that products containing more than 50 grams of maltitol or other sugar alcohols carry a warning about possible laxative effects.
Other countries, including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, also require similar warnings.
But even small amounts of maltitol cause gastrointestinal problems in some people.
A clinical study found that as little as 40 grams of maltitol increased stomach gurgling and flatulence. The group that received maltitol was more than twice as likely to experience these unpleasant side effects compared to the group that received sucrose.
Maltitol can also cause diarrhea in people who do not typically eat foods or drinks that contain sugar alcohols. For example, if you don’t normally eat sugar-free candy but end up eating some for several days in a row, you may have an upset stomach or diarrhea.
The size of your food and how long it has been since you last ate can also affect whether maltitol will cause diarrhea.
Is maltitol safe for people with irritable bowel syndrome?
People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be more likely to experience stomach pain, diarrhea, or flatulence when taking maltitol.
While other food substances cause problems for people with IBS, sugar alcohols like maltitol may be part of the problem.
Following a low- FODMAP diet that limits sugar alcohols can help.
A recent analysis of randomized controlled trials reported that people with IBS who followed a low-FODMAP diet were 66% less likely to experience severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, or constipation.
Is Maltitol Safe For People With Diabetes?
Maltitol is safe for people with diabetes.
However, keep in mind that it is a carbohydrate so it will affect your blood sugar.
The glycemic index of maltitol is 35, which is much lower than that of sucrose (65). This means that blood sugar will rise less rapidly after eating maltitol than after eating the same amount of sucrose.
For people taking insulin, dietitians suggest monitoring the sugar alcohol content of foods when counting carbohydrates.
If there are more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols, subtract half of those grams from the total grams of carbohydrates and count them as “available carbohydrates” for insulin adjustment purposes.
Although maltitol doesn’t make your blood sugar rise as fast as sucrose does, that doesn’t mean you need to eat as much as you want.
Mounting evidence suggests that daily use of low-calorie sweeteners like maltitol is associated with weight gain and increased blood sugar over time.
Is Maltitol Safe For People Who Avoid Gluten?
Maltitol does not contain gluten.
Even when made from wheat, maltitol does not contain any wheat protein. Therefore, it is safe for those who need to avoid gluten.
Can you be allergic to maltitol?
Maltitol rarely causes allergic reactions, even in people with allergies to corn or wheat.
In fact, there seems to be only one observed case of a severe allergic reaction. In this case, the researchers suspected that maltitol may have caused anaphylaxis because no other food allergies were found.
Maltitol is safe, even for people with diabetes and food allergies. However, it can cause diarrhea, bloating, or flatulence, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Are there any benefits to using maltitol?
Since it has fewer calories than sugar, maltitol may help people lose weight.
However, people tend to overconsume maltitol-containing foods that are labeled “low calorie” or “no added sugar.” Remember, these products still have calories and eating too much can cause weight gain.
Some people prefer maltitol because it doesn’t taste bad like other sugar substitutes.
Another advantage that maltitol has over sugar and many other sweeteners is that it does not cause cavities or cavities. A randomized, controlled study found that among people who did not brush their teeth regularly, chewing maltitol gum significantly reduced gingivitis.
Scientists are still in the early stages of investigating other possible benefits of maltitol.
For example, a study in rats found that maltitol protected against colon cancer. Rats that received maltitol were only 53% more likely to develop colon cancer than those that did not.
Maltitol is also being studied as a possible treatment for liver disease. In a study with mice in the early stages of liver disease, those given maltitol for 8 weeks had less weight gain, less blood sugar, and less cholesterol.
Since maltitol has fewer calories than sugar, it could be helpful for people trying to lose weight. It does not cause cavities or has an unpleasant aftertaste like some other sugar substitutes.
Alternatives to maltitol
If you want to avoid maltitol, consider products that contain sucrose, sugar substitutes, or natural sweeteners.
While sucrose has more calories than maltitol and can cause tooth decay, it usually doesn’t cause an upset stomach.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are calorie-free and generally do not raise blood sugar. However, new research shows that they could negatively affect gut bacteria and insulin sensitivity.
Stevia is also calorie-free and does not affect blood sugar. However, it is often mixed with other carbohydrates such as dextrose or maltodextrin, which affect blood sugar.
For a less processed alternative, look for products sweetened with real fruit juice, honey, or maple syrup.
If you are sensitive to maltitol, it is probably wise to avoid xylitol and sorbitol as well. They are sugar alcohols that can cause similar GI problems.
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol, but it may cause fewer GI side effects than other types.
To completely avoid maltitol and other sugar alcohols, choose whole, unprocessed foods.
Alternatives to maltitol include sucrose, artificial sweeteners, stevia, erythritol, honey, and maple syrup. If maltitol upsets your stomach, you may also want to avoid sorbitol and xylitol, as they can have similar effects.
The easiest way to avoid maltitol is to choose whole, unprocessed foods.
Maltitol is a sugar substitute often found in low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages.
It has about half the calories of sucrose and a lower glycemic index.
Maltitol is certainly safe for most people. However, it can cause diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
While it can provide a lower calorie option for people trying to lose weight, it is generally found in highly processed foods, which often contain little to no fiber and a lot of unhealthy fat.
In general, choosing real, whole foods with no added sugar is the best way to control your weight.