WTF are Sugar Alcohols?

malitol’s chemical structure = wtf?

I stand on a very rickety fence between the meat/no-meat debate. This would make former PETA Femilady rage against the machine! But I only eat the stuff if it’s organic-free range-cruelty free-[PC food term fill in the blank].

Healthwise I think some meats are great in moderation–e.g. sashimi–(I eat it maybe twice a month), but ultimately I  think it’s best to stick with nuts, legumes, whole grains, and veggies for sources of protein…yes veggies contain a little protein.

But like most people, I thought that you could really only get protein from animals. This totally sucked since I don’t really care for meat all that much and I despise eggs, yogurt, and most dairy products (except beautiful cheese!).

Then I saw the most glorious alternative: protein bars. They tasted like candy, but were “good” for me–so I thought. Once I finally read the ingredients and realized they were glorified candy bars filled with sugar, I looked for another alternative. Then, there it was, in the Whole Foods display, staring at me: ThinkThin bars. They had “0 grams of sugar/15 grams of protein”. And they tasted like candy!

I ate these bars everyday for about 5 months. I’d have frequent stomach pain and bloating, but I figured it was from lady time or I just had a sensitive stomach. But then it became unbearable, so I googled everything I consumed.

All looked great, since I’m a clean eater. EXCEPT, one devious little ass ingredient I found in my precious protein bars: sugar alcohols.

Sugar alcohols, like malitol, are almost as sweet as sugar–hence the candy bar taste–with half the calories. So they’re a darling of the low-carb/high-protein/low-sugar/no-fun industry. Then I found out the inconvenient truth about these nefarious sweeteners:

A sugar alcohol, also known as a polyol, is an interesting type of carbohydrate. Its structure is kind of a hybrid between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule (hence the name “sugar alcohol”) and, for the most part, our bodies do a poor job of digesting and breaking down sugar alcohol in the small bowel. It’s also…resistant to fermentation by oral bacteria, meaning sugar-free gum manufacturers employ it judiciously to sweeten their products without causing cavities. Our colonic bacteria, however, can and do ferment the stuff. For that reason, it’s a kind of prebiotic that…can stimulate diarrhea and exacerbate existing irritable bowel syndrome-related symptoms.

Case and point: read the ingredients of each processed/pre-packaged foods you consume. They could be contributing to your daily discomfort or  could cause long-term health consequences.

Stick with whole foods, avoid anything processed, and yes, you’ll feel better and look better. Unless you dig symptoms of food poisoning and looking like you’re pregnant when you’re not pregnant.