Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol (polyol). It has a good flavour with little after taste.
It has 2.6 calories per gram, 65% of sugar but it has only 55% of the sweetness. So it is not suitable as part of a calorie controlled diet, sugar is in fact better.
It does, however, have a low glycemic index and is consequently suitable for diabetics. It is a natural product found in many fruits including apples and pears and the human body produces it as part of normal metabolism. It has been used as a sugar substitute for diabetics since the 1930s and for the general population since the 1970s.
It is popular in the production of sugar free confectionery because it adds bulk and stiffness in the absence of sugar. It also prolongs the life of certain products and helps regulate moisture content.
It has a laxative effect, and in fact is used for this purpose in certain medicines. It is not recommended to consume more than 20 gm per day.
It has a very low glycemic index (Only 4 - sugar is 65) and this makes it suitable as part of a diabetic diet. Like all sugar alcohols it is not metabolized by bacteria in the mouth and so it does not contribute to tooth decay. It also helps the appearance, shelf life and texture of food products in the absence of sugar. It also has medicinal qualities.
It has a laxative effect. Also some people can be allergic to it. It occurs naturally in fruit and in the body, but in small amounts. So care should be taken to avoid high consumption.There is no reason to consume large quantities as there are better sugar substitutes.
Some people have had problems with doses as low as 10 to 20 mg per day, from chewing gum. If you do suffer from irritable bowel syndrome you would do well to restrict intake. Also dogs seem to have a severe reaction to it. (Side issue - do not give chocolate of any type to a dog, it is poisonous to them!)
There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA. It has a mild laxative effect. Up to 70 gm per day is considered safe.
CSPI (US) Recommendation
The recommendation issued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (US) for this substance is - CUT BACK
This is because of the laxative effect. The FDA requires foods "whose reasonably foreseeable consumption may result in a daily ingestion of 50 grams of sorbitol" to bear the label statement: "Excess consumption may have a laxative effect."
Most Sorbitol commercially available is synthesized from starch in a process of enzymatic hydrolysis and catalytic hydrogenation. Any starch can be used as a raw material, corn, wheat and potato are common.
Although it is a natural substance, most of what is sold should not be called a natural product due to the highly chemical and refined method of production.
It is not usually sold on its own, but is added by manufacturers to various products.
On the bulk market it is slightly more expensive than sugar per unit of sweetness.This makes it one of the more costly sweeteners used commercially. If you need to buy a small quantity it is available on line. But at about $22 per pound it is a crazy price - probably because it sells so little to the consumer market.
Sorbitol Market Share:
It has by far the highest market share of the sugar alcohols. Still this only represents 0.55 million tons per annum giving a share of about 0.3% or about 300 times less than sugar.
It is used in chewing gum, hard candy, toothpaste and mouthwashes. It produces a cooling effect in the mouth, which makes it particularly suitable for chewing gum and creates a refreshing effect. One spoon of sugar contains 16 calories. To achieve the same sweetness it would be necessary to consume 19 calories of Sorbitol, so there is no saving at all. It is of no benefit as part of a calorie controlled diet.
It is approved for use in most countries. Approved in the EU as food additive E420.
No saving over sugar in terms of calories. Is useful for diabetics and it is harmless to teeth. But it can cause discomfort for some people if taken in even small quantities. The real customers of this product are the manufacturers of sweets and chewing gum, not the consumers themselves. That says it all - why bother!!
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