Sorbitol Sweetener: Is It Safe?

You may have been exposed to sorbitol sweetener without even realizing it. It’s commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum and mints. Is it safe?

Most Americans overindulge when it comes to sugar which probably accounts for the rising rate of obesity in America. It’s hard to turn down a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or a piece of old fashioned chocolate cake despite the high sugar content. To essentially “have their cake and eat it too”, some people turn to artificial sweeteners to get the sweet taste without the calories. One such low calorie sweetener that has made its appearance in the market is sorbitol sweetener.

Sorbitol sweetener is a sugar alcohol that’s derived from glucose by modifying one of the chemical groups so that it’s metabolized more slowly by the body. This reduces the insulin surge that normally occurs when sugar is ingested. Sorbitol is found naturally in some fruits and at only 2.6 calories per serving it offers significant calorie advantages over table sugar.

You may have consumed sorbitol without even knowing it. If you chew sugar-free gum, you’ve probably had a healthy dose of it. It can also be found in some foods designed for diabetics as well as some sugar-free candy, toothpastes, and cough syrups. Sorbitol chewing gum is one of the most common means by which Americans are exposed to this sugar alcohol.

Although sorbitol sweetener has the advantage of being lower in calories and more slowly metabolized by the body, there’s some concern about the side effects of this sweetener. When taken in large quantities, sorbitol can cause sever diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating. This isn’t surprising since sorbitol is sometimes used medically as a laxative and isn’t well absorbed by the intestinal tract.

Not only can high doses of sorbitol cause digestive tract problems, it can also cause significant weight loss. There are several cases, published in the British Medical Journal, of severe weight loss related to chewing sorbitol chewing gum. Most of these cases involved patients who were chewing fifteen to twenty sticks of sorbitol chewing gum each day. Although this may be an extreme, some people who are particularly sensitive may experience symptoms at lower doses. Sorbitol sweetener may be a particular problem for those that suffer from digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, maladsorption problems, or irritable bowel syndrome.

The good news is that sorbitol sweetener has never been shown to cause cancer, at least not according to current published studies. Other than the havoc it can wreck on the digestive tract at high doses, there’s no evidence of any serious, long term side effects of sorbitol.

Should you chew sorbitol chewing gum or consume products with sorbitol sweetener? Steer clear of this sweetener if you have any type of digestive related disorder, including irritable bowel syndrome. Otherwise, you may be able to use small quantities of this sweetener without problems. If you find you develop diarrhea, bloating, or abdominal discomfort from sorbitol, you may want to consider a natural low calorie, slowly metabolized sweetener such as agave syrup and avoid sugar alcohols entirely.

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