Can Sugar-free Candy or Gum's Sugar Alcohol Cause a Falsely Elevated California DUI Breath Test Reading?
Eat any sugar alcohol lately?
If you've looked lately at the “Nutrition Facts” panel on
a pack of sugar-free gum or candy, you might be surprised to see that
it contains “sugar alcohol.” Don't let the name fool you.
These ingredients were given this consumer-friendly name because part
of their structure resembles sugar and part is similar to alcohol.
Not one in the same
Don't be confused. Although they share a similar name, sugar alcohol and
alcoholic beverages do not have the same chemical structure. Sugar alcohol
does not contain ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.
What is sugar alcohol?
Sugar alcohols, also know as polyols, are ingredients used as sweeteners
and bulking agents. They occur naturally in foods and come from plant
products such as fruits and berries. As a sugar substitute, they provide
fewer calories (about a half to one-third less calories) than regular
sugar. This is because they are converted to glucose more slowly, require
little or no insulin to be metabolized and don't cause sudden increases
in blood sugar. This makes them popular among individuals with diabetes;
however, their use is becoming more common by just about everyone. You
may be consuming them and not even know it.
Common sugar alcohols are mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt,
maltitol and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). Sugar alcohols are
not commonly used in home food preparation, but are found in many processed
foods. Food products labeled “sugar-free,” including hard
candies, cookies, chewing gums, soft drinks and throat lozenges often
consist of sugar alcohols. They are frequently used in toothpaste and
So why are sugar alcohols used so often? For one thing, they help to provide
the sweet flavor to food in many products marketed towards individuals
with diabetes. But, beware! There is often the misconception that all
sugar alcohol-containing products are “free foods.” Some of
these products may still contain significant amounts of carbohydrates.
It's important to check the food label for the total carbohydrate contained
in the product and talk with a registered dietitian to determine how it
will best fit into your meal plan.
If a manufacturer uses the term “sugar free” or “no
added sugar,” they must list the grams of sugar alcohols. If more
than one sugar alcohol is used in a product, the “Nutrition Facts”
panel will list the amount of sugar alcohol it contains under the total
carbohydrate. If just one sugar alcohol is used, the label will list its
specific name, for example, “mannitol” or “hydrogenated
Pros and cons of sugar alcohols
On the positive side, sugar alcohols contain less calories (1.5 - 3 calories
per gram) than sugar (4 calories per gram), and they do not cause tooth
decay like sugar does. Therefore, many “sugar-free” gums including
Trident® and Extra® are made with sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols
also add texture to foods, retain moisture better and prevent foods from
browning when they are heated.
Unfortunately, there are some negatives associated with sugar alcohols.
The most common side effect is the possibility of bloating and diarrhea
when sugar alcohols are eaten in excessive amounts. There is also some
evidence that sugar alcohols, much like fructose (natural fruit sugar)
in fruit and fruit juice can cause a “laxative effect.” Weight
gain has been seen when these products are overeaten. The American Diabetes
Association claims that sugar alcohols are acceptable in a moderate amount
but should not be eaten in excess. Some people with diabetes, especially
Type I diabetics, have found that their blood sugars rise if sugar alcohols
are eaten in uncontrolled amounts.
Sugar alcohols vs. artificial sweeteners
Sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin (Sweet &
Low®) and aspartame (Equal® or Nutrasweet®), are not one and
the same. One difference between the two types of sugar substitutes is
that the artificial sweeteners contain zero calories whereas sugar alcohols
contain about 2.6 calories per gram. Another issue is diabetes management.
Artificial sweeteners do not contain carbohydrates so they do not cause
blood sugar to elevate, whereas, sugar alcohols have some effect on blood
sugar. Overall, both can be useful in diabetes management when used properly.
Forms of sugar alcohol
Mannitol occurs naturally in pineapples, olives, asparagus, sweet potatoes
and carrots. It is extracted from seaweed for use in food manufacturing.
Mannitol has 50-70 percent of the relative sweetness of sugar, which means
more must be used to equal the sweetness of sugar. Mannitol lingers in
the intestines for a long time and therefore often causes bloating and
Sorbitol is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It is manufactured
from corn syrup. Sorbitol has only 50 percent of the relative sweetness
of sugar which means twice as much must be used to deliver a similar amount
of sweetness to a product. It has less of a tendency to cause diarrhea
compared to mannitol. It is often an ingredient in sugar-free gums and
Xylitol is also called “wood sugar” and occurs naturally
in straw, corncobs, fruit, vegetables, cereals, mushrooms and some cereals.
Xylitol has the same relative sweetness as sugar. It is found in chewing
Lactitol has about 30-40 percent of sugar's sweetening power, but its
taste and solubility profile resembles sugar so it is often found in sugar-free
ice cream, chocolate, hard and soft candies, baked goods, sugar-reduced
preserves and chewing gums.
Isomalt is 45 - 65 percent as sweet as sugar and does not tend to lose
its sweetness or break down during the heating process. Isomalt absorbs
little water, so it is often used in hard candies, toffee, cough drops
Maltitol is 75 percent as sweet as sugar. It is used in sugar-free hard
candies, chewing gum, chocolate-flavored desserts, baked goods and ice
cream because it gives a creamy texture to foods.
Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH) are produced by the partial hydrolysis
of corn. HSH are nutritive sweeteners that provide 40 - 90 percent of
the sweetness of sugar. HSH do not crystallize and are used extensively
in confections, baked goods and mouthwashes.
Contact a California DUI Defense Attorney for further assistance.