Gas, Bloat, & Diarrhea… Sugar-Free Foods and a [not-so-pleasant] Laxative Effect

Gas, Bloat, & Diarrhea… Sugar-Free Foods and a [not-so-pleasant] Laxative Effect

I remember one day I was in line at Wawa and was looking at a packet of Sugar-Free Werthers Original.  There was a small “warning” on the package to inform me that if I ate too much it might cause some GI upset.  So instead of inhaling the whole package, I played by the rules because I was scared of you-know-what.

Many types of artificial sweeteners (AS) are found in products today – some might be labeled sugar-free and some may not.  Several symptoms have been identified due to the presence of some of the additives; however, whether or not you are lucky enough to experience these pleasant episodes are a matter of individual sensitivity to the different types of AS.  

Polyols sound cute – kinda like Polyo String Cheese; unfortunately, they are not the same thing.  Polyols are sugar alcohols that are the primary culprits that cause the laxative effect.  Where do they come from?  These sugar alcohols come from plant products such as fruits and berries.  Sugar alcohols are sugar replacers, used to take the place of sugar to make sugar free candies and other sugar free products.  Examples are maltitol, maltitol syrup, sorbitol, isomalt, polyglucitol, and lactitol.  Sugar alcohols are digested more slowly than sugar, generally producing a relatively small rise in blood sugar levels after eating.  They are digested and absorbed in a different way than regular sugar.  

Regular sugar is digested in the small intestine by enzymes.  Sugar alcohols bypass the initial steps on digestions (similar to fiber) and are digested in the large intestine.  During digestion in the large intestine by normally occurring bacteria, those digestive side effects like gas, bloat, cramps, and diarrhea may become present.  

Sugar alcohols are mostly tolerated in small amounts (in moderation).  Sometimes sugar free chewing gums and mints do not include a warning statement as a result of their small serving and package size. 

More recently other sweeteners such as Splenda may potentially cause diarrhea as well.   However, one may be able to consume large amounts of this and another may not be so lucky – it is a matter of individual tolerance.  

 Keep in mind that just because a food is sugar-free, does not mean it is healthier or provide fewer calories than its counterparts.  Always make sure to read the Nutrition Facts labels on products to dissect a product and select the one that is best for you.