Subscribe to our Newsletter:
Healthy Diet Plans >>  Sweeteners >>  Natural Sugar Substitutes >>  Sorbitol


Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) that is also known as glucitol. It is slowly metabolized by the body and is a bulk sweetener found in numerous food products. Sorbitol is obtained by changing the aldehyde group to an additional hydroxyl group by reducing glucose. Sorbitol has 1/3rd fewer calories and is about 60% sweeter than sucrose. Besides being used in processed foods, sorbitol is also used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Sorbitol is often referred as a nutritive sweetener as it provides 2.6 calories per gram verses the average 4 calories per gram of a carbohydrate. Sorbitol occurs naturally in many foods including fruits and berries especially from the trees of the genus Sorbus. It is also commercially produced by hydrogenation of glucose. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has affirmed sorbitol as ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ (GRAS) and approved its use in various countries. It has an E number E420 as a food addictive and is group under ‘other natural agents’

Sorbitol is used as an inactive ingredient in various cough syrups. Sorbitol when consumed in higher amounts 10-50 gm or more can cause gastro-intestinal problems like abdominal pain, flatulence/gas formation and mild to severe diarrhea. It can also aggravate conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and fructose malabsorption. Sorbitol is used as a sugar substitute in various foods like ice creams, sugar free chewing gums, sugar-free candies, frozen desserts, baked foods and diet drinks.

Sorbitol is heat stable and is chemically unreactive and very stable. It also does not participate in maillard reactions, as a result is used in products like cookies where a brown appearance is not desired. Sorbitol is non-carriogenic and does not contribute to dental plaques or dental carries as it is resistant to metabolism by bacteria in the oral cavity. For sugar free foods that contain sorbitol or other sugar alcohol the FDA has approved its use and can mention ‘does not promote tooth decay’ on the health claim labeling. In oral suppression or suppository form sorbitol can be used as a non-stimulant laxative. Drugs with sorbitol stimulate the bowel movements by drawing water in to the large intestine. This can be helpful especially in old age, as sorbitol use is determined to be safe in elderly. As sorbitol is absorbed slowly in the body it does not cause significant rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. Thus products with sorbitol as a sweetener can be consumed by people with diabetes wisely.

Although our body produces sorbitol naturally, yet it is poorly digested and may cause cell damage. Excess sorbitol accumulated in the eyes and nerves is related to diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy (excess glucose that goes through polyol pathway).
Submitted on January 16, 2014