We have become so conditioned to eat sugar that going without it is not only painful, but also extremely challenging. Go down the processed food aisle, and you would be hard pressed to find processed foods that don’t contain some form of sugar, whether it is plain cane sugar or any of the other sugars ending in “-ose.” When you start a low carb diet, many sweet foods can be eliminated or healthier fruit options substituted, but if you’re like me there are just some things you aren’t willing to forego, such as coffee. There is a reason sugar substitutes are so popular, but with health concerns arising about products such as sucralose, there must be another low carb sugar option.
Enter sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol and erythritol are naturally occurring in fruits such as grapes and pears. Ever had a pear that is about to go off, and it has that distinct alcoholic twang? Xylitol has been used in gum for years, but because of its toxicity to dogs, seems to have trouble catching on as a popular low carb sugar option.
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol, and is the kind I use for my coffee, the one thing I refused to give up after quitting smoking, sugar and processed foods. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere!
Sugar alcohols can be used as a low carb sugar for many applications. Though not as sweet as sugar, they have their own uniquely sweet flavor that lends itself very well to sweetening drinks such as coffee and tea. They are acceptable as a sweetener for oatmeal and even cereals, although there are better options for those things, like Stevia.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to sugar alcohols as low carb sugar is that they do not affect blood glucose at all. They are zero on the Glycemic Index, and can be used with little to no side effects. Excessive use of erythritol, quoted at 80 grams per day, can lead to digestive issues such as upset stomach and diarrhea. In my own personal experience, side effects can happen at lower doses, but as with all things, moderation is key. I have more cups of coffee than I’ll admit to per day, and don’t normally have any trouble with my erythritol consumption.
Sugar alcohols also have very few calories. They are almost the perfect low carb sugar substitute, but that slightly different taste is hard for some people to get used to.
I think sugar alcohols have their place in a low carb diet, but they are not for every application so they should be only one part of a balanced approach to low carb sugar options.