What You Need to Know About Sorbitol
What Is Sorbitol
Sorbitol is what’s known as a sugar alcohol, a type of sweetener that’s used as a sugar substitute (and no, it doesn’t contain ethanol, which is what’s found in alcoholic beverages). Other sugar alcohols include xylitol and erythritol. Sorbitol is found naturally in fruits like apples and peaches, as well as other plants like corn and seaweed, so it is not an artificial sweetener. It’s about 60% as sweet as table sugar and has 30% fewer calories (sorbitol contains 2.6 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for sugar).
How Sorbitol Is Used
Sorbitol is commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum (including brands like Extra, Orbit, and Trident), mints (such as Altoids), and toothpaste (like Colgate). It’s also used for sweetening medications like cough syrup to make them taste better and mask bitter flavors. Sugar-free cookies and chocolates sometimes include sorbitol as a sweetener.
Advantages of Sorbitol
One reason toothpastes and gums use sorbitol as a sweetener is its health benefits — it can protect against tooth decay and dental caries. Companies also use sorbitol because it’s lower in calories than sugar and much lower on the glycemic index.
Is Sorbitol Safe?
Sorbitol is recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most people only ingest small amounts of sorbitol when it’s used as a sweetener in gum, mints, and toothpaste, but it’s also used medically in large doses for other purposes. Doctors will sometimes give patients sorbitol in large doses as a laxative or to treat constipation. Because of this effect, some people experience gastrointestinal distress like bloating and diarrhea when consuming foods with sorbitol. One reason is that sorbitol is used in sugar-free chocolates, energy bars, and other sweet snacks, and people can overindulge on those treats and eat a large amount of sorbitol in one sitting. So having a few sugar-free cookies with sorbitol is likely fine, but finishing the box is asking for trouble! The American Dietetic Association advises that consuming more than 50 grams of sorbitol a day can cause diarrhea and other side effects.
Sorbitol and Pets
Sorbitol is generally considered safe for dogs and cats. Sorbitol is sometimes included in pet foods and pet toothpastes. While some sweeteners (like xylitol) are poisonous for pets, sorbitol is not one of them.
Sorbitol and Sweet Defeat
The sorbitol used in Sweet Defeat is naturally derived from fruits and vegetables. Each lozenge includes 0.4 grams of sorbitol—not enough to cause gastrointestinal distress or affect blood sugar levels. Combined with mint, it’s just enough to give the lozenge a pleasantly refreshing flavor.
How Sorbitol Fits Into Different Diets
People who are trying to eat healthier often cut their sugar consumption, but wonder how they should think about sorbitol. Here’s how a few popular diets view the sweetener:
If you’re following a keto diet, the point is the keep your carb intake very low. Keto diets focus on net carbs, and sorbitol does contain some carbs. To calculate how much, take the total carbs and subtract the fiber. A strict keto diet dictates eating fewer than 20 grams of net carbs a day, while a low-carb diet can allow up to 50 grams of net carbs a day. Sweet Defeat contains 0.4 grams of sorbitol and 0.25 net carbs. Since Sweet Defeat can stop you from eating other forms of sugar, the minimal amount of carbs in each lozenge can be worth it.
Paleo discourages the use of sweeteners except in very small amounts. So avoid sorbitol in chocolates and other low-calorie processed treats. Sweet Defeat uses such a small quantity of sorbitol, so it would be considered acceptable when eating Paleo.
Atkins encourages eating a diet high in protein and fat, and low in carbohydrates. Similar to keto, the diet focuses on getting the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel. Sorbitol is allowed on the Atkins diet and so is Sweet Defeat.
Intermittent fasting is practiced in different ways by people on this diet. Some people fast every day, eating only during certain hours—for example, between noon and 8 pm—and taking in nothing but water, coffee, tea, or other non-caloric drinks for the other 16 hours. Others fast for 24 hours at a time once or twice a week. Dr. Jason Fung, the author of The Complete Guide to Fasting, told Popsugar that he believes that the amount of sweetener in a mint or gum is negligible (the 0.4 grams of sorbitol in a Sweet Defeat is the equivalent of 1 calorie, for example), so if it helps you get through the fasting period, it’s acceptable.