Sugar-Free Chocolates, Artificial Sweeteners, and Sugar Alcohols – What You Really Need to Know
Chocolate is a delicious treat, but it is almost one-half sugar. There are a whopping 48 grams of sugar (12 teaspoons) in 100 grams of chocolate. It might seem like sugar-free chocolate would be a terrific option for people with Sucrose Intolerance, also known as Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID). You’ve got great taste with little to no sucrose.
The problem? Most sugar-free chocolate is made with sugar alcohols, sweeteners that can produce the same uncomfortable symptoms that people living with Sucrose Intolerance are trying to avoid — bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Which Sugar Substitute Is Used in Chocolate?
Most sugar-free chocolate contains maltitol, a sugar alcohol that is 90% as sweet as sugar with only half the calories. Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that provide fewer calories per gram and produce a smaller change in blood-sugar levels than sucrose (table sugar). They are found naturally in tiny amounts in some fruits and vegetables, but a majority are commercially produced from sugars and starch. Other sugar alcohols include erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), lactitol, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and isomaltitol.
Side Effects of Sugar Alcohol
Only a portion of sugar alcohol is digested and absorbed by the body. Bacteria in the large intestine ferment the undigested parts, which can result in uncomfortable bloating, gas, and diarrhea. That’s why the FDA requires manufacturers using sorbitol and mannitol to include a warning on the package label that says, “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”
Monitoring Sugar Alcohols
Some people living with Sucrose Intolerance can tolerate some sugar alcohols, others cannot. Speak to your healthcare provider to determine if you can safely consume sugar-free chocolate. If you get the green light, here are some tips for monitoring your intake.
- Check the Nutrition Facts label. Food manufacturers can voluntarily list sugar alcohols on their food labels under the section, Total carbohydrates, but they must list them if they are making a health claim like “sugar-free” or “no added sugar.”
- Read the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed on a Nutrition Facts label in descending order of content by weight. Ingredients at the top of the list make up a larger proportion of the total ingredients than those at the bottom of the list.
- Start with small amounts. Pay attention to your body and stop eating sugar-free chocolate if you experience digestive symptoms after you eat it.
Artificial Sweeteners to Monitor
Three sweeteners that are tolerated by most people with Sucrose Intolerance are:
- Dextrose and fructose
- High fructose corn syrup (primarily fructose and glucose)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet®)
Keep an eye out for these other artificial sweeteners that are only tolerated by some people with Sucrose Intolerance:
- Acesulfame K (Sweet One®)
- Agave nectar (primarily glucose and fructose)
- Equal® (aspartame based)
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low®)
- Sucralose (Splenda®)
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