Sugar substitutes in food Discover all alternatives


Xylitol, maltitol, erythritol – have you lost track of all the sugar substitutes? We give you an overview of the most important sugar alcohols. 

What are sugar substitutes?

Sugar substitutes : these are mainly sugar alcohols. They are used as an alternative to sugar because of their sweet taste.

No need to panic: it has nothing to do with the effect of ethyl alcohol in beer. Sugar alcohols are polyhydric alcohols .

Like sugar, they belong to the group of carbohydrates.
They are naturally present in small quantities in many fruit and vegetable varieties. However, most of the sugar substitutes in foods are manufactured industrially.

Sugar alcohols at a glance

  • Sorbitol
  • Mannitol
  • Isomaltol
  • Polyglycitol
  • Maltitol
  • Lactitol
  • Xylitol
  • Erythritol


Sorbitol is naturally present in apples and pears, for example. In industrial production it is obtained from wheat or maize starch.
Compared to cane sugar, it has a sweetening power of  60% .


Xylitol is found in a small amount in fruits and vegetables. It is also known as birch sugar. Today it is mainly made industrially from agricultural by-products. Vegetable material, such as wood and straw, is part of this.

Among the sugar alcohols, xylitol has the strongest sweetening power . So it is almost as sweet as cane sugar.

Xylitol has a cooling effect in your mouth. That explains why the sweetener is often processed in chewing gum or candies.


Maltitol is extracted from corn and wheat starch. It has a sweetening power of  70 to 80% .

Sugar-free baking? Simply replace the sugar with maltitol in your favorite recipes.

Ideal for sweetening desserts as, unlike xylitol, it leaves a creamy feeling in your mouth.


Erythritol occurs naturally in small amounts in fruits, vegetables and cheese. In industrial production it is mostly obtained from carbohydrates. The sweetening power is approximately  60% .

Erythritol is excreted almost completely from your body and only small amounts get into your intestines. This explains why it has the best gut tolerance of all sweeteners and has the least effect on your blood sugar.

Since your body only metabolizes erythritol in minimal amounts, it is nearly calorie-free.

Sugar substitutes and sugar in comparison

The special thing about sugar alcohols is that they have lower  energy values  than sugar.

This is because they are not completely metabolized by your body. Depending on the type of sugar substitute, you absorb fewer calories.

Compared to cane sugar, the influence on your blood sugar level is less and largely independent of your insulin level . You can thus avoid annoying fluctuations in your blood sugar level.

Sugar alcohols have the ability to bind water. In large quantities they have a laxative effect . This effect is most evident with sorbitol.

Compared to industrial sugar, the sugar substitutes are also more tooth-friendly. That’s because the bacteria that cause caries cannot process sugar alcohols. Therefore, they cannot produce caries.

What’s the Difference Between Sugar Alcohols and Sweeteners?

In addition to sugar alcohols, sweeteners are also sweeteners. Compared to sugar alcohols, they are often much sweeter.

Unlike sugar alcohols, they have no nutritional value and no significant calories. Nothing but sweet – you can’t expect quick energy from sweeteners.

Are sugar substitutes unhealthy?

According to EU regulations, the sugar substitutes together with the sweeteners belong to the category of sweeteners.

In general, a sweetener is extensively tested before it can be used in a food.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), together with a group of experts, evaluates whether an additive is harmless to your health.

No ADI value (English for acceptable daily intake) was assigned to sugar alcohols. So there is no maximum allowed daily intake.
This is because its use has been classified by EFSA as harmless to health.

Our conclusion

  • Sugar alcohols in foods are usually not a natural substitute for sugar
  • They are only partially metabolized by your body
  • Therefore, they have a lower energy value and are broken down independently of your insulin
  • If you want to save on calories, sugar substitutes can be a good alternative for you
  • When processing in a cake recipe, for example, you cannot replace sugar and a sugar substitute 1: 1
  • The sweetness, the ability to bind water and the own taste must be taken into account

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