Maltitol: Is it a Safe Sugar Substitute?


Wooden bowl of maltitol with a wooden spoon scooping some of it up.
Highlights
  • Maltitol belongs to the class of sweeteners known as sugar alcohols and offers many benefits over regular table sugar.
  • These include blood sugar regulation, better calorie control for health-conscious individuals, and improved dental health.
  • Maltitol is used in products like chewing gum, baked goods, medicines, and chocolate.
  • People with diabetes should consult their doctor before they make major dietary changes, such as switching from table sugar to maltitol.

Are you searching for a better way to beat those sugar cravings that keep sabotaging your weight loss efforts? Or are you on the lookout for a diabetic-friendly sweetener? Maltitol may be the right choice for you.

With the worldwide incidence of diabetes on the rise, the demand for sugar-free products has skyrocketed. Recent projections estimate that the maltitol market will be worth $368.61 million by 2030.

To find out more about maltitol, including its uses, benefits, and potential risks, keep reading.

What is Maltitol?

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol belonging to the polyol family of carbohydrates. It possesses up to 90% of the sweetness of table sugar but has just over half of its calories.

Maltitol, naturally found in chicory leaves and roasted malt, is commonly used as a sugar substitute.

Opting for products containing maltitol instead of regular sugar can reduce your overall daily calorie intake, making it a great choice for those looking to build healthier eating habits.

Why is it important to manage sugar intake?

Being mindful of your total calorie intake — especially those from sugars — is crucial. The American Heart Association (AHA) has issued the following guidelines for daily added sugar limits:

  • 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men

  • 6 teaspoons (100 calories) for women

In contrast, the average American adult consumes about 17 teaspoons of sugar a day, significantly exceeding these recommendations.

This high sugar intake primarily comes from processed foods like sweetened beverages, sugary confections, and baked goods.

Incorporating maltitol and other artificial sweeteners into your diet can play a key role in reducing your daily sugar intake.

Cutting back on sugar is important for preventing lifestyle-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially when it forms part of a comprehensive approach to a healthy lifestyle.

Is Maltitol Good or Bad for You?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of sugar alcohols, including maltitol, as substitutes for sugar. Maltitol is also classified as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the FDA.

However, research has shown that consuming large amounts of maltitol can lead to fetal complications and diarrhea — but when used in moderation, it presents minimal risk to humans.

What are the Benefits of Maltitol?

Maltitol can be a great supplement to a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ways this sugar substitute can make your life sweeter:

Fewer calories

Maltitol has a lower caloric content of 2.4 calories per gram compared to sugar's 4 calories per gram.

Like other sugar alcohols, maltitol is not completely digested in the gut due to its inability to be metabolized by the human body.

This limited breakdown means fewer calories are absorbed by our bodies, further contributing to maltitol's reduced caloric impact compared to regular sugar.

Improved dental health

Maltitol stands out in the food industry as a non-cariogenic tabletop sweetener, meaning it doesn't contribute to tooth decay like traditional sugar does.

When sugar is consumed, mouth bacteria break it down into lactic acid, which then erodes tooth enamel.

However, studies reveal that maltitol doesn’t undergo this process. The bacteria in our mouths don't break down maltitol to produce lactic acid, thereby reducing its harmful impact on dental health.

Lower impact on blood glucose

Maltitol is a potentially suitable option for individuals who need to manage their blood glucose levels, due to its incomplete breakdown and digestion in the gut.

This leads to a gradual rise in blood glucose rather than the rapid spikes associated with the consumption of regular sugar.

This property of maltitol is particularly beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes and could also benefit those working toward weight loss — more on this soon.

What are the Potential Risks of Maltitol?

The FDA and the National Cancer Institute agree that there’s no conclusive evidence linking artificial sweeteners, including maltitol, to serious adverse effects such as cancer or other diseases.

The risks associated with these sweeteners are considered relatively low when consumed as directed.

Key Point: Is Maltitol Worse than Erythritol?

Although maltitol isn't inherently inferior to erythritol, it falls short in certain areas. For instance, maltitol contains 2.4 calories per gram, whereas erythritol has zero calories per gram.

Additionally, erythritol is less likely than maltitol to cause gastrointestinal issues or irritation.

What are the Uses of Maltitol?

While maltitol is mostly known as a sweetener and healthy alternative to sugar, it’s also used in personal care products and medications. The many uses of maltitol are discussed below:

Dental care products

Because maltitol can improve dental health, it’s a key ingredient in a variety of dental care products — including sugar-free chewing gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

Research has shown that the act of chewing by itself only had a slight effect on the makeup of plaque bacteria. However, chewing maltitol-sweetened gum reduced the levels of several bacteria, particularly those important in the early stages of dental plaque formation.

Maltitol is also beneficial in toothpaste and mouthwash. By curbing bacterial growth, maltitol helps prevent dental caries, further improving oral health and hygiene.

Diabetic-friendly sweetener

As mentioned above, maltitol and other sugar alcohols can help control blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. This is because they affect blood sugar levels less than regular table sugar does.

By opting for maltitol and similar sugar alcohols instead of table sugar, people with diabetes can enjoy sweetened foods while having better control over their blood sugar, contributing to improved diabetes management and overall health.

Sugar-free sweetener

Maltitol's primary and most well-known use is as a sweetener, offering a versatile and healthier alternative to regular sugar.

It can seamlessly substitute sugar in a wide array of culinary applications, ranging from sweetening your daily tea and coffee to helping create guilt-free treats — more on this below.

Low-calorie snacks

Maltitol is a key ingredient in creating healthier, low-calorie versions of many beloved treats. It's widely used in a range of products, from baked goods and pastries to sugar-free chewing gum and low-calorie ice cream.

Maltitol's versatility also extends to baking, where it can be used effectively in cake recipes.

However, it's important to note that if you're using maltitol syrup instead of its powdered form, adjustments to the dry ingredients in the recipe may be necessary to compensate for the additional liquid.

Chocolate

Maltitol is a popular ingredient in sugar-free chocolates due to its higher melting point (148°C or 89.6°F) than some other artificial sweeteners. It can be used in diabetic-friendly candy bars or to coat confections and ice-cream.

Recent market insights forecast that the maltitol chocolate market is expected to see a growth rate of 6.4%, with its market value anticipated to reach US$ 81.6 million by 2029.

Pharmaceuticals

Maltitol's applications extend beyond its role as a food flavor enhancer and sugar substitute. In the pharmaceutical industry, maltitol, along with other sugar alcohols, is frequently used as a complementary ingredient.

Its diverse uses in pharmaceuticals include:

  • Increasing formulation volume: Maltitol helps bulk up pharmaceutical formulations.

  • Sweetening syrup medications: It's particularly useful for adding sweetness to syrup-based medications, making them more palatable, especially for children.

  • Preventing crystallization: Maltitol prevents crystallization at the top of medicine syrup bottles.

  • Acting as a humectant: It helps maintain product moisture, thereby extending shelf life.

  • Sweetening medicated candies: Its sweet taste, lower calorie content, and non-cariogenic properties make maltitol the perfect choice for sweetening lozenges or medical gummies.

Maltitol: Special Precautions and Warnings

Even though maltitol is considered safe for use by both adults and children, there are a few guidelines you should follow to ensure responsible consumption of this sugar alternative:

Moderation is key

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily intake for maltitol is as follows:

  • Adults can safely consume up to 40 grams of maltitol per day.

  • For children, a daily intake of up to 15 grams is considered safe and won’t cause adverse effects.

Diabetics and carbohydrates

Maltitol is a beneficial sugar alternative for diabetics due to its low effect on blood glucose. However, it's crucial to remember that sugar alcohols, including maltitol, are still carbohydrates. Similar to fiber, starch, and regular sugar, sugar alcohols also raise blood glucose levels — although to a lesser extent.

Individuals with diabetes should monitor their blood glucose levels closely when using maltitol. It's always advisable to consult with a healthcare provider before making significant dietary changes, especially when managing diabetes.

Gastrointestinal symptoms and irritation

As we mentioned before, maltitol is not completely metabolized by the digestive system, and its remnants can lead to bowel discomfort and irritation. Consuming excessive amounts of maltitol can have a laxative effect.

This occurs because the colon's bacteria can ferment many sugar alcohols, including maltitol. The fermentation process produces gas and other byproducts, leading to bloating and flatulence.

Additionally, the fermentation residue draws water into the colon, softening stool consistency and increasing its water content. This is why some people experience diarrhea when consuming large quantities of maltitol.

Is Maltitol Safe to Use During Pregnancy?

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that artificial sweeteners, including maltitol, are safe for consumption during pregnancy, provided they are consumed in moderation — which is not exceeding 40g per day for adults.

However, the WHO also advises that artificial sweeteners shouldn’t replace essential nutrients required for fetal development.

Where Can I Learn More About Maltitol and Similar Sugar Substitutes?

Are you looking to cut back on sugar or trying to find the right diabetic-friendly sweetener for you? LifeMD can help.

A team of healthcare professionals is dedicated to assisting you in finding the right sugar substitute, collaborating with you to achieve your weight loss goals, or helping you to manage your diabetes.

Book your appointment today to get started.

Jennifer McMillan, APRN, FNP-BC

Jennifer is a board-certified, multistate licensed Nurse Practitioner with over 25 years experience in healthcare. She specializes in Women and Men’s Health, Psychiatry, and Urgent Care. She enjoys including her patients in the decision-making process regarding their care to help them reach and maintain their health goals. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys doing volunteer work at the American Heart Association.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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