Sugar alcohols are regulated as either GRAS or a food additive. The FDA has filed GRAS affirmation petitions for isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, HSH, and erythritol. Sorbitol is on the GRAS list, while mannitol and xylitol are listed as additives.
The reason that sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar is because they are not completed absorbed in our body. For this reason, high intakes of foods containing some sugar alcohols can lead to abdominal gas and diarrhea. Any foods that contain sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning on their label that "excess consumption may have a laxative effect." The American Dietetic Association advises that intakes greater than 50 grams/day of sorbitol or greater than 20 grams/day of mannitol may cause diarrhea.
The presence of sugar alcohols in foods does not mean that you can eat unlimited quantities. Sugar alcohols are lower in calories, gram for gram, than sugar, but they are not calorie free, and if eaten in large enough quantities, the calories can be comparable to sugar-containing foods. You will need to read the food labels for the calorie and carbohydrate content regardless of the claim of being sugar free, low sugar, or low carb.
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