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.