If you are familiar with the low FODMAP diet, then you know that sugar alcohols are off limits. Polyols are a type of sugar alcohol that is the “P” in FODMAP. Sugar alcohols like the polyols are commonly used to replace sugar in diabetes-friendly food products.  Unlike what their name implies, sugar alcohols are not actually alcohols. Therefore, they won’t give you a buzz, but they can mess up your gut microbiome.

This is because these compounds are not fully digested and absorbed by the body. And consuming too much of them can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, which is caused by poor digestion of the polyols drawing water into the large intestine. In those with digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, foods containing compounds like sorbitol can cause especially discomforting digestive symptoms. Let’s learn a little bit more about one of the more common sugar alcohols known as sorbitol and how you can watch out for it in your daily diet.

What is sorbitol?

Sorbitol is a member of the polyol family that is found in fruits and plants. It can also be produced synthetically from glucose and is used as a sugar substitute in many food products. This is because sorbitol has one-third of the calories of sucrose, or table sugar, with 60-percent of the sweetening activity.

Sorbitol has also been used as a diuretic and has a laxative effect when consumed in excess.  Because of this, it can still be found in medical environments for use as an irrigating or laxative agent.

Foods high in sorbitol

Sorbitol can be found naturally in the following plant-based foods:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Apricots
  • Dried fruit like dates, figs, prunes, and raisins

You can also find sorbitol in many processed food products such as sugar-free candies for those with diabetes, sugar-free chewing gum, and sugar-free jams and marmalades. In addition to these products, sorbitol can also be found in the juice forms of the high sorbitol fruits listed above such as pear juice and plum juice. Be sure to check the label carefully for such ingredients in food products such as pre-prepared smoothies, trail mixes, cereals, and sauces as well.

Foods to eat instead

If you enjoy sweet fruits, but must avoid sorbitol for gut health reasons, there are plenty of low FODMAP friendly fruits to eat instead. Some of these fruits, with Monash-certified servings included, are:

  • 5 ounces of unripe banana
  • 3 ounces of cantaloupe
  • ½ cup dried coconut
  • 4 cumquat fruits
  • 1 cup diced pineapple
  • Multiple servings of grapes, strawberries, clementines, or oranges

And if you enjoy sugar-free foods, just look for those sweetened with the following low FODMAP friendly low to no-calorie sweeteners.

  • Stevia
  • Monk fruit
  • Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose

You can also enjoy foods sweetened in naturally low FODMAP ways to stay safe from sorbitol-related symptoms. These food products would include those sweetened with natural cane sugar, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, as well as purees or low-calorie juices of low FODMAP fruits such as strawberries, lemons, or limes.

Take home message

Sorbitol can be a deliciously sweet ingredient in fruits and other foods. However, because of its polyol properties, it can wreak havoc on your gut when eaten in excess. And for those with digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, sorbitol can cause discomfort even in small doses. Therefore, be on the lookout for sorbitol-rich fruits and products containing this sugar alcohol to stay safe on your low FODMAP diet plan. Visit Casa de Sante for more tips on how to avoid common trigger foods on the low FODMAP diet.

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