How do polyols affect us?

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

What are polyols?

Polyols are a category of carbohydrates known as sugar alcohols.

Polyols are found naturally in certain foods but are also often manufactured to function as sugar-free, low-calorie sweeteners. This may or may not be in combination with sugar and additional artificial sweeteners as polyols generally aren’t incredibly sweet. Common polyols include: sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol and xylitol.

Why do polyols affect me?

Like other FODMAPs, polyols are not well digested in the body.

Polyols don’t have specific transporter mechanisms in the small intestine. They are therefore absorbed more slowly by a process called passive diffusion. However, this process is less efficient and is often very dependent on many factors, such as transit speed, polyol size (often too big) and the size of the pore (often too small to assist in polyol transport across the cell) located on your small intestine cell wall. In many cases, depending on these variable factors, absorption fails and the polyols will travel on and end up at the large intestine where they are involved in fermentation. The unwelcome arrival of polyols in your large intestine makes you more susceptible bothersome symptoms such as bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea.

Where are polyols found?

Polyols occur naturally in certain fruit and vegetables but are often readily used in the manufacturing of artificial sweeteners that are commonly incorporated into many sugar-free varieties of food and drink. This can include sweets, desserts, drinks, and chewing gum.

We have produced a more extensive list of specific foods containing polyols in our High FODMAP foods section.

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