Sorbitol belongs as well as mannitol, lactitol or xylitol to the group of sugar alcohols. It is used as a sugar substitute in many industrially manufactured foods. Sorbitol is only about half as sweet as sucrose (table sugar) and also contains significantly fewer calories. However, sorbitol is not well tolerated by everyone - more and more people suffer from sorbitol tolerance.
In which foods is sorbitol?
Sorbitol is found naturally in pomaceous fruit: apples, pears, apricots, plums and peaches all contain large amounts of sorbitol. In citrus fruits or berries, on the other hand, hardly any sorbitol is present.
Incidentally, in dried fruits, the sorbitol content is significantly higher due to water loss than in fresh fruit: a dried apricot contains about five times as much sorbitol as a fresh one. In addition to fruit, sorbitol is also commonly used in chewing gum or lozenges.
Sorbitol is identified in the food industry as additive number E 420. It may occur in almost all foods - with the exception of drinks - in any large quantities. However, with a daily dose of 20 grams or more, abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea may occur. Therefore, all foods that contain more than ten percent of sorbitol must be labeled with the addition 'can be laxative when consumed excessively'.
Sorbitol: suitable for diabetics
In the past, sorbitol was mainly obtained from the berries of mountain ash, which can contain up to twelve percent sorbitol. Today, the production of sorbitol is based on corn starch and wheat starch. From these glucose is recovered, which can then be converted to sorbitol.
Sorbitol contains about 2.4 calories per gram, which is significantly less than table sugar (sucrose), which brings it to about 4 calories per gram. Since no insulin is needed for the metabolism of sorbitol, sorbitol is also well suited for diabetics. It is particularly often used to sweeten diet foods.
Use of sorbitol
In the food industry, sorbitol is added to foods such as mustard, toast or praline fillings to prevent them from drying out. Sorbitol has the property of being able to bind water from the environment.
In addition to these foods, sorbitol is also used in various cosmetics and toothpastes due to its hygroscopic properties. Toothpaste not only protects sorbitol from drying out, it is also responsible, together with other substances, for the fresh taste of toothpaste.
Sorbitol tolerance - also known as sorbitol intolerance - causes disruption of sorbitol in the small intestine. Sorbitol is then reduced only partially or not at all. This causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.
A sorbitol intolerance can be diagnosed with the help of a breath test: The content of hydrogen that results from the misguided metabolism is measured.
If sorbitol intolerance exists, foods containing sorbitol should be avoided altogether for a period of at least two weeks. As soon as the symptoms have finally disappeared, the consumption of sorbitol-containing foods can slowly start again, in order to test out the individual tolerance limit. Because unlike other incompatibilities, sorbitol tolerance often tolerates small amounts of sorbitol.
Sorbitol and fructose
Incidentally, persons suffering from fructose intolerance are also prohibited from taking sorbitol-containing foods. Because in the small intestine sorbitol inhibits the - in the affected already already low - absorption capacity of fructose in addition.
Sorbitol intolerances are much more common today than in the past. Experts attribute this to our changing eating habits: today, more and more foods are being treated with fructose or sorbitol to give them a sweeter taste.