Maltitol: Things you must know about this artificial sweetener


Last Updated June 13th, 2021

What is maltitol?

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol-based artificial sweetener.  Sugar alcohol is defined as sugar, which has an alcohol component attached to it.  Sugar alcohols are produced by fruits and vegetables and are classified as carbohydrates.  It is an artificially produced sugar alcohol and is used as a replacement for the natural sugar.  Initially, maltose is produced from wheat and corn, which is then used to produce maltitol.  

It is widely used in the preparation of sweets and candies since it does not change its color to brown when heated, as well as keeps the sweets and candies moist. The main reason these artificial sweeteners are produced is due to the reduced calories as compared to table sugar.  

Maltitol risksSugar alcohols generally have around half the amount of calorie as compared to table sugar. The bloodstream hardly attracts these sugar alcohols from the intestine, which result in a very small variation of blood sugar level.  

Large amounts of sugar alcohol intake can lead to bloating of the stomach as well as loose and watery stools. Sugar alcohols are very effective in managing tooth cavities. The bacterias in the mouth do not break down these sugar alcohols and there is relatively a very lower chance of tooth decay.  Due to this property of sugar alcohols, they are widely used to manufacture chewing gum, candies, ice cream, etc. Maltitol is used in the preparation of cough syrups, tonics, and vitamin preparations due to the low-calorie content.   

The uses of Maltitol

Medicine

Fights tooth decay:  Sugar consumption creates an acidic environment in the oral cavity that promotes decay and demineralization of teeth.  Maltitol is non-fermentable and does not feed oral bacteria. Regular use leads to capping the growth of cavity-forming bacteria that are commonly known as Streptococcus mutans.  It helps in the reduction of the acidic level when the sugar is fermented by the bacteria in the mouth. It increases salivary flow and helps to buffer these acids. This leads to a more alkaline environment in the oral cavity.  This subsequently reduces tooth decay and plaque and enhances tooth re-mineralization. Maltitol consumed in the form of granules in tea or coffee, chewing gums, and toothpaste can reduce tooth decay.

Middle ear infections:  Otitis media is a common bacterial infection caused mainly by non-encapsulated Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae, which are the two main bacterias contributing to the cause of middle ear infections and sinusitis.  Maltitol prevents Streptococcus pneumoniae from sticking to tissues and form colonies of bacteria called biofilms, making the germ more vulnerable to treatment with the use of antibiotics.

Diabetes treatment:  Diabetes and metabolic syndrome can be treated with the use of Maltitol.  Maltitol is slowly emptied from the stomach and has literally no effect in altering the levels of blood sugar and insulin secretion.  It has a considerably lower glycemic index. Maltitol intake helps diabetes patients have better glucose tolerance, less weight gain, and significantly lower the food intake.  It is an ideal low-calorie sweetener for people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and other metabolic disorders.

Food and confectionery

Maltitol has by far the same taste and sweetness when compared with sucrose, which is the common table sugar but has a substantially lower amount of calories as compared to sucrose.  Since Maltitol does not caramelize, they are widely used to manufacture candies, ice creams, chewing gums, etc.

Calorie Alternative to Table Sugar

Maltitol is very scarcely absorbed by the human body when it is in the large intestine and the metabolism process converts it into few calories.  Whereas table sugar is easily absorbed by the human body and increases the blood sugar level drastically. People who are trying to avoid calories from their intake of diet prefer more of a low-calorie diet.  

It has been estimated that the calories contributed by consuming maltitol is around 2.1 calories per gram. Due to the low-calorie content of maltitol, one of the products that can be consumed is low-calorie chocolate.  Low-calorie chocolate is generally sweetened using maltitol and hence provides the sweetness of the sugar, but with minimal calories.

It has to be noted that zero calorie chocolate does not mean it is containing zero calories, but actually low calories as compared to the normal version of chocolates, which contains table sugar.

What are the side-effects of Maltitol?

Maltitol can have some side effects when consumed in large quantities.  The most widely affecting side effect of maltitol is bloating and diarrhea.  Sugar alcohols such as maltitol can cause a laxative effect, which is the natural sugar in fruit and can induce this effect when a person consumes around 40 grams of maltitol per day.  Similarly, people suffering from digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s Disease are advised to avoid Maltitol. It is known to cause laxative effects, which can aggravate digestive disorders.  There is also a concern of developing tumors when Maltitol is consumed for more than 3 years in higher doses.

Consuming high doses of sugar alcohols such as Maltitol can cause weight gain and affect blood-sugar levels.  Sugar alcohols are not free of calories, as they have 2.6 calories per gram. People with type 1 diabetes can see a surge in blood sugars if they consume sugar alcohols in uncontrolled amounts.

People may experience an allergic reaction to Maltitol.  Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction include bumps on the skin, skin rash, swelling of the mouth and hands, breathing difficulties, dizziness, vomiting, chest tightness, etc.

Sugar alcohols such as Maltitol can cause a person to be addicted due to the craving of a sweet tooth.  Since these sugar alcohols such as Maltitol hardly contain any nutrition or calories.  This hardly suppresses the craving and the person ends up consuming more often. Due to the craving, it can cause serious health risks leading to kidney damage, diabetes, etc.

Studies have found that daily consumption of sodas and cool beverages with artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome as well as diabetes.  Consumption of large quantities of these sweeteners can even lead to glucose intolerance and can lead to blood sugar levels becoming high.

Some of the common side effects experienced with Maltitol consumption are:

Abdominal Pain:  Abdominal pain can occur due to many reasons and one of the reasons contributing to abdominal pain is from the excess consumption of maltitol.  Studies have indicated that consumption of around 40 mg of maltitol per day can lead to stomach pain.

Gas and Flatulence:  Excess accumulation of gas can be caused by regular intake of sugar alcohols such as Maltitol.  Since sugar alcohols are very rarely absorbed from the intestine, it stays in the intestine for a long time before getting excreted.  This may lead to the formation of gas and bloating. This side effect seems to be the most common side effect of all the sugar alcohols available in the market and is not just isolated to Maltitol.

Diarrhea:  Since Maltitol is known to contain the properties of laxatives, it is very important to note that these sugar alcohols such as Maltitol can cause diarrhea when consumed in large quantities.  A person suffering from constipation can benefit from the effects of Maltitol, but people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome should be very careful when consuming it since it can aggravate the symptoms and cause severe diarrhea.  Studies have shown that consumption of sugar alcohols such as Maltitol by adults around 60 grams to 90 grams daily can lead to diarrhea or loose stools.  In children, the cut off the range is around 15 grams.

Maltitol & your pet health

Maltitol could be listed as sugar alcohol in your pet’s food label.

Other common sugar alcohols include xylitol, mannitol, erythritol and sorbitol.

Some manufacturers may list maltitol as xylitol on their food labels. 

Of all the sugar alcohols, xylitol was found most toxic to dogs. Due to a different metabolism in dogs, it can affect dogs fatally.  Unlike humans, sugar alcohols are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in a release of insulin from the pancreas.  The rapid release of insulin causes a decrease in the blood sugar level causing a medical condition called hypoglycemia. For dogs, hypoglycemia can occur within an hour of consumption of xylitol.

When xylitol related hypoglycemia is not treated on time, it can be life-threatening. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination or difficulty with walking or standing, lethargy, tremor, seizures, and coma. Foods to be avoided for animals include xylitol sweetened products such as cookies, gums, xylitol powder, cupcakes, and muffins. The common signs of liver failure in dogs include loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea, increased thirst, unstable walk, increased need to urinate, confusion, etc.

Different sugar alcohols get metabolised differently in pets and substantial data is lacking. For instance, when injected intra-venously in dogs, sorbitol elevated blood sugar levels, but manitol did not.

While maltitol is not toxic to pets, it is advisable to keep a check on the quantities of maltitol containing products, till we have further detailed data.

Other uses of Maltitol

Maltitol is generally used as a sweetener which is well known to people, but there are other products where Maltitol is used in small amounts and these include toothpaste, mouthwash, chewable vitamins, chewing gum, calorie-free drinks, alcoholic beverages, frozen yogurt, candies, processed snack foods, ice creams, etc.  It is used in moisturizers to keep the skin moist.

Different forms of Maltitol

Maltitol is available in three different forms namely:

Maltitol syrup:  It is a colorless and lightly sweetened syrup.  The syrup is produced by hydrolysis of starch. Uses of syrup include a cost-effective alternative to sucrose, reduced calories, viscosity similar to sucrose.  It also helps to retain the moisture. The nutritional specifications include sugar-free, low calorie of 2.4 kcal per gram, and low glycemic index.

Maltitol powder:  It is white in color with a sweet taste similar to sucrose.  Maltitol syrup is crystallized and powdered to produce maltitol powder.  Uses of powder include a cost-effective alternative to sucrose, reduced calories, viscosity similar to sucrose, stability, and high solubility.  The nutritional specifications include sugar-free, low calorie of 2.4 kcal per gram, and low glycemic index.

Maltitol crystals:  It is white in color with a sweet taste similar to sucrose.  Maltitol syrup is crystallized to produce maltitol crystals. The uses and nutritional facts are similar to the powder form.

Maltitol and glycemic index

The property of maltitol completely suppresses the concept of consuming artificial sweeteners.  People try to avoid table sugar to reduce calorie intake since they are known to have a high glycemic index.  In the case of maltitol, it seems to have a glycemic index not very far from table sugar. The glycemic index of table sugar is 60 whereas the glycemic index of maltitol syrup is around 52, which is very close to the table sugar.  

This clearly indicates that there is hardly any difference between table sugar and maltitol syrup with respect to the glycemic index. There are several alternative sweeteners available in the market with a lower glycemic index and are more beneficial.  It is advised to read the label of the product before buying it and make sure appropriate low calories sweeteners are used.


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