Skip to main content
£ 0.00
Est. delivery
Order total
£ 0.00

Please enter a promotion code

Sorry, the coupon code you have entered is invalid or has expired.



Rob Hobson
Article written by Rob Hobson

Date published 03 May 2023

Find out about the author

Back to article list

Latest articles

Polyols, or sugar alcohols, are used as a sweetener in food and drink, including protein bars. Sports nutritionist Rob Hobson explains what they are, where they are used and if they are good for your health.

🕒 4 min read

Polyols, or sugar alcohols, are used as a sweetener in food and drink, including protein bars. Sports nutritionist Rob Hobson explains what they are, where they are used and if they are good for your health.

Polyols are also known as sugar alcohols, and can be found naturally in some grains, fruits, vegetables, and trees. Typical polyols include erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol. They can be produced synthetically, such as erythritol derived from fermented glucose, or xylitol from birch, hardwood trees and fibrous vegetation.

Polyols are used commercially as a sweetener. They are added to food and drink such as mints, baked goods and chocolate snacks, including sports snacks such as protein bars, to reduce sugar content while maintaining a sweet flavour. They are a type of carbohydrate, but one that is not fully absorbed in the gut, so they score lower on the glycaemic index than sugar and raise blood sugar levels more slowly. Polyols also don't add as much sweetness as sugar.

Polyols have advantages as a sugar substitute, but can cause problems when consumed in large amounts.


One of the critical benefits of polyols is that they can help people reduce their sugar intake, including those with diabetes. Polyols do not raise blood glucose levels in the same way as regular sugar, which makes them useful when it comes to managing these levels.

Polyols may be a better choice for people with insulin resistance. This condition occurs when the body becomes less responsive to insulin, leading to higher blood glucose levels after eating sugar.

Consuming more sugar can make the issue worse, as the body struggles to lower spikes in blood glucose. Polyols are slowly absorbed in the body and do not cause the same blood sugar spikes, making them a better choice of sweetener for those with this condition.

Sweeteners, including polyols, can help with weight loss by reducing the sugar and calorie content in food and drink. Switching to non-sugar-sweetened foods and beverages is a good alternative for those who want to satisfy a sweet craving without the excess calories.

Polyols are not broken down by bacteria in the mouth, which means they do not contribute to the formation of cavities. Polyols may even have a protective effect on teeth. A large meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials showed that combining xylitol-sorbitol and xylitol-mannitol chewing gums had a preventative effect on cavities.1


One of the main drawbacks is that polyols can cause digestive issues if consumed to excess. Because the body cannot fully absorb polyols, they ferment in the large intestine, which can lead to bloating, wind, and diarrhoea. This is usually only a problem if consumed in large quantities, and some people are naturally more sensitive to polyols than others.

Polyols can also have a cooling effect in the mouth, which is why they are often added to sugar-free mints and gum. This also means that they may not have the same taste or texture as sugar. This may be a negative issue for some people, who may not enjoy the taste of polyol-sweetened foods or beverages.

Another potential drawback of polyols is that they are synthetically produced. While some polyols, such as erythritol, occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables, most are produced synthetically. This could be an issue and make foods and drinks less appealing to those who prefer to eat whole foods and avoid highly processed ingredients.

What is the polyol content of common foods?

Sugar-free gum: 1-2g xylitol/sorbitol per stick
Sugar-free sweets and chocolate: 1-2g xylitol/sorbitol/maltitol per serving
Sugar-free cakes and biscuits: 1-3g sorbitol, xylitol/maltitol per serving
Sugar-free drinks: 1-2g erythritol/xylitol per serving


Polyols can be a valuable tool in a healthy diet, but they should be consumed in moderation. Health organisations globally recommend that people limit their intake of polyols to no more than 10-15 grams per day to avoid digestive issues. Food labelling guidance also states that any food containing more than 10% added polyols should state 'excessive consumption may produce laxative effects.'

Polyols can be an excellent alternative to sugar for those who need to manage their blood sugar levels or reduce their sugar intake. However, it's essential to consume them in moderation and to be aware of any potential digestive issues. Some leading protein bars have up to 18g of polyols per bar, while Healthspan Elite's protein bars have less than half that amount.

Elite All Blacks Plant-Based HiLo Protein Bar

All Blacks Plant-Based HiLo Protein Bar

Delicious protein bars packed with 20g protein

  • Chocolate and Salted Caramel, Black Forest Gateau and White Chocolate Raspberry flavours
  • 6.7g fibre per bar, only 3.5g sugar
  • As little as 8.1g polyols per bar – less than half that of Grenade protein bars
Shop now

Like this article? Share it!

Rob Hobson

About Rob Hobson

Rob Hobson MSc RNutr is an award-winning registered nutritionist (AFN) and sports nutritionist (SENR) with over 15 years of experience. He founded London-based consultancy RH Nutrition, and has degrees in nutrition, public health nutrition and sports nutrition.