Beware of the Sugar Alcohol Maltitol

As food companies try to lower the sugar content of their foods, they’ll try just about anything. In addition to the usual white-flour-to-soy-flour conversion, sugar is often taken out and replaced with a sugar alcohol. The name is a bit misleading as it’s neither a sugar nor an alcohol; rather, its chemical structure is merely similar to sugars and alcohols.

And, food companies generally subtract food alcohols from the “carb count” on the back of the package as they reason that sugar alcohols have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. But, is that really the case? To find out, I searched for the glycemic values for various sugar alcohols. For those not aware, the Glycemic Index is a measure of a food’s effect on blood sugar levels. The scale is set up so that sugar has a value of 100. But, that’s not to say that foods can’t exceed 100 — potatoes can reach into the 150s, for example.

While a glycemic value of zero would truly represent a food which has “no effect” on blood sugar levels, that’s not to say that any effect is bad. Really, it’s the spikes in blood sugar levels brought on by foods with high glycemic values which cause mischief. Getting back to the sugar alcohols, I discovered that many of them aren’t that low:

  • Maltitol syrup, intermediate: 53
  • Maltitol syrup, regular: 52
  • Maltitol syrup, high: 48
  • Polyglycitol / hydrogenated starch hydrolysate: 39
  • Maltitol syrup, high-polymer: 36
  • Maltitol: 36
  • Xylitol: 13
  • Isomalt: 9
  • Sorbitol: 9
  • Lactitol: 6
  • Erythritol: 0
  • Mannitol: 0
Obviously, maltitol and its variants stick out. But, how bad is it? For comparison, corn syrup (a sugar derived from corn) is around 85-92. Sure, maltitol is lower than that, but it’s not that far off. As a rule of thumb, a glycemic value in the 40s (or below) is considered low. But maltitol syrup (53) is almost at the level of new potatoes (57).

So, which sugar alcohols are used commonly? Speakingly only anecdotally — from my recollections of food labels at my local Target — maltitol seems to be the sugar alcohol of choice for many manufacturers. I think we’d all like to find some double chocolate chip cookies make with erythritol (with its zero glycemic value), but I’ve never actually seen erythritol on any ingredient label :-/.

It may initially seem confusing to have all these sugar alcohols and glycemic values to remember — especially since so many food manufacturers liken all of them to having a minimal effect. But, just keep in mind these two: maltitol (36-53, depending on variant) and polyglycitol (also called “hydrogenated starch hydrolysate”, at 39). If you steer clear of those, the rest shouldn’t be an issue — the next-highest sugar alcohol is xylitol and that only has a glycemic value of 13.

179 thoughts on “Beware of the Sugar Alcohol Maltitol

  1. The FDA Food Safety Division should re-evaluate and revise the warning labels on food products with maltitol. Example: Werther’s Original Sugar-Free candies (with maltitol and sorbitol). The package only warns of a possible “laxative” effect with “excessive consumption”. Excessive is not defined, and severe burping and foul gas is NOT part of a laxative effect. There is also no warning that these adverse effects can last for many days.

  2. I missed about 3 weeks of work after eating a box of Ricola Licorice hard candy (“Sweetened with Stevia”, but I have absolutely no problem with Stevia, which is why I bought them- to avoid the neurotoxin, aspartame, in other Ricola cough drops). Little did I know the main sweetener was malitol and I had no idea I’d end up in the bathroom for 4 hours in complete agony, with gas pains worse than menstrual cramping and my stomach bloated up like a beach ball. Oh, but it wasn’t over- I then broke out in hives, starting on my neck, then my face, chest, stomach, flank, back and then buttocks. I was itching so badly I couldn’t sleep at all- no antihistamine or Benadryl cream helped the burning and itching at all. I could hardly stand to wear clothes or even feel the sheets on the bed touch my skin (much less lie on the bright red, angry rash/hives). I’m so disappointed that this product I bought because it was advertised as being sweetened with Stevia, which I’ve used safely for a few decades, contained this toxic chemical malitol. I’m afraid to give the rest of the boxes away (I had to import 10 at a time, from the UK, since I don’t live near a Whole Foods, which is the only place in the US I’ve found to buy them in a retail store), so I’ll probably end up throwing this expensive mistake out. It’s cost me a lot- my health and wellbeing, plus 3 weeks of missing work, and seeing the doctor, plus expensive prescriptions for the rash that didn’t help. Thank you for this website and everyone else who has shared their stories, here. Now, I know I’m not alone.

  3. I was interested to browse these comments, as I have been reading up on sugar alcohols. It seems there are many in current usage and most have possible side effects if consumed uncautiously. So surely it’s all down to limiting or, better still, avoiding sweets, puddings, pies and such sweet treats altogether, especially if you already have dietary problems such as diabetes? There are so many delicious vegetables and fruits you can reward yourself with?

  4. “Erythritol is much better, much lower on the glycemic index plus less bloating and stomach distress, and I’ve recently observed it seems to be growing in use”…..well not for me it isn’t!!!

    I’m on day 5 of recuperating from Erythritol in Kirkland protein bars from Costco. Last night I think was the final purge. I had head fog, headaches, stomach cramping, bloating, gas, nausea, achy joints and muscle soreness. The diarrhea was unbelievable to the point I had nothing to give anymore. I have milder reactions to aspertame but bad enough that diet drinks are out of the question.

    Point being: whatever I’m sensitive to someone else might be fine and then promote it’s “goodness”. There is nothing good about any sugar alcohols, aspertame etc. Artificial sweeteners are toxic and I plan on staying clear of them from now on.

  5. Maltitol: bad gas. I am laughing my head off as people describe “contacting the mfg” about this. There is a simple explanation. Humans cannot metabolize maltitol, but there are populations of bacteria in our guts that love it. They take off and grow rapidly if significant maltitol is consumed by a human subject. This rapid growth generates a lot of bacterial waste, including a lot of nasty gas. Hence the severe flatulence that follows consumption of, e.g., “Glucerna,” or maltitol-based pancake syrups, which taste delicious and are recommended for diabetics without any warning that a massive gas attack occurs within 1/2 hour of consumption.

  6. I’m not losing weight. But I eat the Russell Stover chocolates. Main reason is that they calm my stomach and they make me expell gas, it relieves bloating. Plus they actually taste good.

  7. OMG…. Am type 2 diabetic and was PMS-ing. The only time I must have chocolate. I went to market and found Pillsbury SUGAR FREE Devil’s Food cake mix in the box and they even had the SUGARFREE frosting. I have one piece of it. It tasted it so good! The next day I was sooo sick. Felt like someone kicked my in the stomach. I have fever, super bad stomach cramps, gas pains. Today
    is day 2 and I still have cramps but little better then yesterday. That Maltitol was the culprit. I felt like I was going die the pain was so bad. I had to throw out the entire cake and I swear I will never eat that again. It was just too dam much and way not worth all the pain I ‘ve been it.

  8. Today I consumed about 6 pieces of Werthers sugar free caramels and I have such bad stomach pain that I was considering going to the ER. I was googling possible causes of the pain and thankfully came across this thread. I just threw the remaining candies in the trash.

  9. Hey peeps… Yes malitol and anything that ends in ” tol” will give you horrible gas and diarrhea…and as bad as fake sugars/ sugar alcohol makes you feel, chicory equally noxious. Chicory extract, sometimes called inulin has a laxative effect and causes painful gas and bloating.
    Even if you only eat the recommended amount this happens. If you overeat its worse but to me, it’s not acceptable for a product to cause these stomach issues when consumed as intended.
    I’m only 28, after eating nutrition bars containing chicory i had such bad has pains i felt it might be a heart attack!. A few pieces of sugar free candy(3) have me horrible diarrhea and cramps into the next day.
    So yes I say ban this junk its pretty much poison to humans and should not be consumed. Ever.

  10. My father was sick all night (vomiting, acute pains and bloating) after consuming just three chunks of sugar-free chocolate containing erythritol. A couple of weeks ago, he consumed a few bars of it and was also violently ill. At the time, we didn’t make the connection.

  11. One, itty bitty piece of food with malitol made my stomach/ gut bloat, feel pains like pins and needles and have had gas like CRAZY for hours. My mom’s a nurse and she couldn’t believe the gas I was experiencing. I tried it the next day, just to be sure if this was the source and my stomach hurt all day like pin pricks.
    Good for you if Malitol doesn’t trigger nasty effects, but you should believe the people that say they had a bad experience even if they consumed a small amount.

  12. Maltitol got me! Do not ever buy the sugar free gummies bears made by Goofy Candy Co. at Disney World. Yes there is a warning on the back now, but who at a theme park reads the entire package before buying it?! I only read it after I had the worst flight home ever, an hour after consumption, and still in extreme pain and all the symptoms that go with it going on 5 hours now. It should be banned!! And as a grown adult I can only imagine what would happen if a kid ate these!

  13. I recently ate 2 Whitman assorted SF chocolates and it was a massive mistake. I guess some people just can’t tolerate any maltitol. I literally thought I was going to die. I told my wife that if I had one more flare, to call an ambulance. By flare I mean cramps with a pain level of “10”, intense sweating, cold, clammy skin, dizziness, incoherence, tunnel vision and black outs. My skin was so pale I could see every vein in my arms and hands. Oh, and not to mention the steady stream of diarrhea exiting my body. I will NEVER ingest a product containing maltitol EVER AGAIN.

  14. Sugar alcohols eaten in small amounts can cause just pain and discomfort in some people……in larger amounts it has a laxative effect but until that kicks in the bloating and pain can be unbearable. Chicory Root is in many protein bars and even some no sugar yogurts….it too can cause terrible gastro distress.

  15. OMG! all Sugar-Free products for people with Type 2-Diabetes or have other illness and cannot have sugar, the sugar-free products should be banned immediately. I would rather take my chance eating regular sugar or foods high in sugar than eating any sugar-free products. The ingredients that these sugar-free products have made my stomach bloat so badly I felt as if I were dying like a horse or cow that had severe bloat and that is what I had when I was eating Ricola sugar-free cough drops. I had severe bloat along with severe diarrhea for days. I couldn’t walk or breath and I looked like I was 24 months pregnant like an elephant. I felt like my stomach was going to rip open and all my intestine was going to spill out of my body and I felt as if my kidneys were shutting down. I was literally screaming in agony. I almost had to take myself to emergency that is how bad it was. Like I said all sugar-free products should be banned immediately. Anyone who reads this comment, Please I beg you stay away from all sugar-free products if you do not want to experience what I went through.

  16. I’d eaten a specific sugar free dark chocolate, containing maltitol, for a while now, as I am trying to overcome a sugar addiction that has become a major danger to my health. a few days ago I had a little more chocolate than I usually do. I have to say, I’ve never felt so sick in my life. I’ve been bed-ridden for 2 days now and I am yet to show signs of recovery. stomach cramps I can only compare with child birth, explosive diarrhoea every few minutes, weakness caused by the loss of fluids and nutrients. I can barely stand long enough to run to the bathroom without passing out, and sitting up is exhausting and a task in itself. I can’t sleep or eat.

    only thing that helps somewhat relieve the pain is bananas, iberogast, and lemon myrtle/mint tea. hope this helps.

    I feel that this needs to be banned from being used in foods. and even if not banned, I would’ve liked more of a warning than “consumption of this product may produce a laxative effect”.

  17. I woke up last night at 2am and had such bad abdominal pain it made me yell out and woke my wife. I thought the chicken soup we had eaten for dinner was bad but my wife ate the same thing. Nothing else but dehydrated mango. Then I thought MAYBE the chocolate I ate had too much milk product? But milk doesnt usually hurt, just bubble guts, and it takes a lot. Now, I had eaten 3/4 of a trader Joe’s chocolate bar while reading before bed. It was bigger than a normal one but not massive and I didnt even see it said low sugar. I grabbed it because it was the only one that had almonds and was by the register. Finally when I read the ingredients today say #1 was maltitol. And then found all this and much more.
    It’s not a joke to say I thought of going to the hospital. It felt as if my insides were rupturing. The only time I’ve felt this much pain was when I had appendicitis as a teenager and this was worse.
    Still, I agree if it doesnt affect you, I guess it’s ok? And I did eat a decent amount. But only like 2 candy bars worth. That shouldn’t send you the the hospital every once in awhile. And I’m deffo no fatty patty. Who says that? The people who sell it? Lol
    I’ll definitely stay far away. Anything that can do that so bad so easily, I want none of, even in small doses. I don’t eat much sweets usually. And I don’t have diabetes. I’ll stick with sugar on occasion.

  18. This stuff is garbage. Save the $ and get a regular candy bar. It will be less toxic. This is my 4th day after having a few (ok, more then a few) sugar alcohol chocolates. TOXIC! I’m still in pain.

  19. I ate 2 squares of a new Lindt product with “no added sugar” in the evening. As I ate it my throat started hurting. My throat was inflamed and itchy throughout the night and into the next day. I also started coughing in the morning. I checked the ingredients and found this “Maltitol” which I had not come across before. I was also gassy but that was not as bad as my throat’s reaction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.