There are now many different substitutes used to sweeten products while adding minimal calories and retaining a sugar-free label. Dr. Avena explains that “Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that provide a minute amount of calories per gram.” She compares erythritol to sugar, noting that the former contains 0.24 calories per gram while sugar clocks in at 4 calories per gram. Dr. Avena reveals that, unlike artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, “erythritol has a comparable sweetness to sugar (60-80 percent as sweet), meaning you can use it in a one-to-one ratio to replace sugar in a recipe.” This is beneficial because sweeteners with exponentially greater sweetness need to rely on additional ingredients “to make up for the volume lost when replacing the sugar,” Avena notes.
If sugar alcohols had no undesirable effects this might not seem like a big deal. However, Dr. Avena points out that “sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed in the intestines, so they go on to be fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, which can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort.” Anyone who ate too many Haribo sugar-free gummy bears before they were recalled knows the potential horror of consuming too many sugar alcohols (via Forbes). Dr. Avena notes the side effects are variable among people and that some sugar alcohols can be harder to tolerate than others.