Polyols are carbohydrates but they are not sugars, making them sugar-free sweeteners. They are used cup-for-cup (volume-for-volume) in the same amount as sugar is used, unlike low-calorie sweeteners which are used in very small amounts. Because they taste good, people can improve the healthfulness of their diets without having to sacrifice the pleasure of eating sweet foods they enjoy.

Since “polyols” is not a consumer friendly term, many nutritionists and health educators refer to polyols as “sugar replacers” when communicating with consumers. Scientists call them “sugar alcohols” because part of their structure chemically resembles sugar and part is similar to alcohols. However, these sugar-free sweeteners are neither sugars nor alcohols.

Polyols provide fewer calories per gram than sugar. They provide significantly less than the traditional four calories per gram assigned to carbohydrates in general.

The eight polyols currently available for use are erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (including maltitol syrups), isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. These ingredients may be found in a wide range of products, including chewing gums, candies, ice cream, baked goods and fruit spreads. They are also used in toothpastes, mouthwashes, breath mints and pharmaceuticals such as cough syrups or drops and throat lozenges.

Isomalt is an excellent tasting sugar-free sweetener. Products made with isomalt have the same texture and appearance as those made with sugar. Derived from sugar, isomalt's health benefits and stability make it a versatile and valuable ingredient for numerous reduced-calorie foods and pharmaceuticals.
Erythritol is a zero-calorie, good-tasting bulk sweetener which is suitable for a variety of reduced- calorie and sugar-free foods and beverages. It has been part of the human diet for thousands of years due to its presence in fruits and other foods. Erythritol has a high digestive tolerance, is nonglycemic and therefore safe for people with diabetes, and does not promote tooth decay.
Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates are a family of pleasant tasting bulk sweeteners used in a variety of products. They are exceptionally well suited for sugar-free candies because they do not crystallize. They blend well with flavors and are synergistic with low-calorie sweeteners.
Lactitol is a bulk sweetener with a sugar-like taste. Its stability, solubility and reduced calories make it suitable for a variety of low-calorie, low-fat and/or sugar-free foods. Its mild sweet taste makes it ideal for use with low calorie sweeteners.
Maltitol is a reduced calorie bulk sweetener with sugar-like taste and sweetness. Its stability, high sweetness, and structure make it suitable for a variety of reduced-calorie, reduced-fat and sugar-free foods. Maltitol does not promote tooth decay.
Mannitol is a low-calorie sweetener that has been used safely around the world for more than 60 years. About 50 percent as sweet as sucrose, it is found in a variety of reduced-calorie foods and beverages, as well as pharmaceutical products.
Sorbitol is a bulk sweetener with good taste and reduced calories. It does not promote tooth decay. Sorbitol is suitable for a variety of products reduced in calories, sugar or fat and has been safely used for almost half a century.
Xylitol is a good-tasting bulk sweetener which is reduced in calories and dentally safe. Approved in more than 35 countries, its sweetness and bulk make xylitol an increasingly popular ingredient in foods, pharmaceuticals and oral health products.