As some of you may already know, the overwhelming majority of sugarfree products – from coffee syrups to gum to yogurt – contain a sugar alcohol and natural laxative known as sorbitol.
Sorbitol in and of itself is not worrisome, but, when consumed in large amounts, it can do quite a number on your digestive system.
A stick or two of sugarfree gum a day is no cause for concern, but I am increasingly seeing people consume a variety of sugarfree products throughout the day, thereby obtaining a significant amount of sorbitol from their diet.
Research over the past twenty years has repeatedly shown that even just ten grams of sorbitol a day can have detrimental effects on our stomachs and intestinal tracts.
To put this into an easy-to-relate context: one stick of sugarfree gum contains one gram, sugarfree candies provide between two and three grams a piece, and a large coffee with sugarfree syrup can contain up to eight grams!
Of particular note is a small, but still significant, 1985 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology which concluded that approximately one third of adults suffer from sorbitol intolerance, further exacerbating symptoms.
What exactly happens?
As a calorie-free sweetener, sorbitol is undigested.
It consequently sits in our small intestine, where bacteria eat it up, producing hydrogen gas in the process. That hydrogen gas causes flatulence, stomach aches, and significant bloating.
When consumed in very large amounts, diarrhea is a common side effect.
Keep in mind that some of these symptoms often do not appear until hours after consumption. And although chewing gum is not swallowed, the sorbitol is certainly ingested.
Sugarfree is not a green light for unlimited consumption. Not only can you end up consuming too much sorbitol; these products still have calories!