In a recent discussion earlier this week, someone in my Facebook group brought to my attention if sorbitol in toothpaste was really that bad even though he tries to avoid it at all costs. Honestly, I’ve never heard of sorbitol and curiosity immediately kicked in. As a type 1 diabetic, the vast majority of us try and eat as health as possible to avoid any potential long term side effects. So what’s the deal? Are sorbitol side effects in gum and toothpaste really all that bad? Lets take a closer look!
What Is Sorbitol?
So what is this stuff anyway and are there other names for sorbitol? Well, sorbitol was first discovered in its naturally occurring form in 1872 and is in a variety of fruits and berries. Common fruits which contain this sugar are the stone fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, apricots and cherries. High quantities of Sorbitol are also found in such items as dry fruits, prunes, raisins and figs. Sorbitol in these fruits is often associated with gas formation and aggravation of irritable bowel syndrome.
Safe For Type 1 Diabetics?
I guess (for obvious reasons) this is the one that surprised me the most and Jim, I can now see your concern with using sorbitol and thank you for pointing this out to me. I’m also thinking that you have to have adequate amounts as part of your daily diet, but lets see.
As type 1 and type 2 diabetics we may incorrectly believe products containing sorbitol and labeled “no sugar added” or “sugar free” will not affect their blood sugar. This is a dangerous misunderstanding that could lead to significantly elevated blood sugar levels, according to Joslin Diabetes Center.
The calories and carbohydrates in foods containing sorbitol or any other sugar alcohol must be added in to the total allowed amounts of a diabetic person’s meal plan. Read the nutrition label and look for sorbitol on the ingredient list; also look at the total carbohydrate grams per serving in order to avoid abnormally high blood sugars.
An Artificial Sweetener?
Well lets just say that once man gets into a lab, essentially anything can become artificial and altered, but what about sorbitol? Like I mentioned earlier sorbitol occurs naturally in fruits and berries, but sorbitol can now made chemically from corn syrup and is in a variety of foods and health products. Because it contains one-third the calories found in glucose, it is widely present in a variety of diet drinks and foods. Sorbitol is found in puddings, pancake-mix, cookies, oatmeal, and a variety of other foods. Foods products labeled as “containing no sugar” or “lite” frequently contain sorbitol as an artificial sweetener. A number of health and nutrition bars also advertised for diabetics also contain quantities of sorbitol.
Sorbitol Dangers, Possibly Side Effects?
Is sorbitol bad for you? As explained by Sareen Gropper, author of the book “Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism.” Sorbitol takes a relatively long time to digest, and undigested sorbitol in your small intestine acts as a substrate or platform for the fermentation of bacteria. As bacteria ferments, hydrogen gas is produced, causing abdominal cramps, bloating and severe flatulence. As such, sorbitol may aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and similar gastrointestinal problems resulting in severe abdominal pain, even from small amounts ingested. Although not common, some people may also have an allergic reaction to sorbitol and other sugar-based alcohols.
Per caloriecontrol.org, Sorbitol’s safety is supported by numerous studies reported in the scientific literature. In developing the current U.S. food and drug regulation which affirms sorbitol as GRAS, the safety data were carefully evaluated by qualified scientists of the Select Committee on GRAS Substances selected by the Life Sciences Office of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). In the opinion of the Select Committee, there was no evidence demonstrating a hazard where sorbitol was used at current levels or at levels that might be expected in the future. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulation for sorbitol requires the following label statement for foods whose reasonably foreseeable consumption may result in the daily ingestion of 50 grams of sorbitol: “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”
The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has reviewed the safety data and concluded that sorbitol is safe. JECFA has established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for sorbitol of “not specified,” meaning no limits are placed on its use. An ADI “not specified” is the safest category in which JECFA can place a food ingredient. JECFA’s decisions are often adopted by many small countries which do not have their own agencies to review food additive safety.
The Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union (EU) published a comprehensive assessment of sweeteners in 1985, concluding that sorbitol is acceptable for use, also without setting a limit on its use. Make it appoint the next time you pick up a food product labeled “sugar free” to check the label to see if these sugar alcohols are listed as they could adversely effect you. Most importantly, be sure to check what the total carbohydrate content is per serving of any food, and incorporate that carbohydrate when factoring in your bolus calculations.
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