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What is Sorbitol?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sorbitol, or glucitol as it is sometimes called, is a slow-metabolizing sugar alcohol derived from fruits, corn and seaweed. It's a sugar substitute found in foods such as frozen desserts, sugar-free chewing gum and diabetic candies. Sorbitol is only about 60% as sweet as sugar, however. It is also used as a thickener and moisturizer in beauty products.

Since it's very slow to be metabolized by the body, sorbitol does not cause insulin levels to increase as much as sugar. It also doesn't lead to tooth decay and is used in many sugar-free cough syrups. It is a popular addition to gel toothpastes as it helps add transparency.

Sorbitol is added to soaps, especially transparent glycerin bar soaps. It has moisturizing qualities and may be found in lotions and moisturizing soaps. The sugar alcohol has been used in cosmetic products for close to a century and is a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) product by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This sweetener can have a laxative effect, and it is not recommended for consumption by children and those with sensitive digestion symptoms or a gastro-intestinal condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Sorbitol can cause diarrhea, bloating and gas unless it's consumed in small quantities. It may also cause abdominal pain in some cases.

Sorbitol's chemical formula is C6H1406. It may be used in cigarette production as a moisturizing substance as well as a sweetener in some diet drinks. It is also used, along with sucrose, to preserve the freshness of surimi proteins used in producing imitation crab.

Most that used in the food and cosmetics industry today comes primarily from corn. The People's Republic of China is a large producer of sorbitol. Different grades include food grade for food and beverage products, cosmetic grade for cosmetic and personal health products, and vitamin C grade used to produce supplement tablets.

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Discussion Comments
By anon999121 — On Oct 30, 2017

One night a couple of weeks ago I ate about 20 Kirkland Vitamin C with sorbitol as the main ingredient. I nearly crapped myself and spent the majority of the night crapping my brains out. Sorbitol is definitely the best laxative I have ever unintentionally consumed. Now, when I eat between 5-10 vitamin c tablets, I don't crap myself, but I have gas all night and often times it's so violent that I'm awoken. Luckily, no odor, but both me and my wife are a little tired of the sleep disruption.

By anon997488 — On Jan 16, 2017

To 'popcorn': Stevia is a best natural sweetener (no cal), but I don't know of any commercial drink maker using it. You can find good info on stevia online.

By anon995002 — On Mar 23, 2016

Why are artificial sweeteners put in so many products when people are allergic to them? I used to live on artificial sweeteners until my doctor took me off of them when I was pregnant and NutraSweet was first being introduced to the US. When I tried to eat them again I got such severe headaches that no medicine would stop and they lasted for days. So many people are consuming these sweeteners and not knowing why they have headaches and other problems. I can't be the only one. Why doesn't the government do something about it.

By anon993216 — On Oct 29, 2015

Apparently sorbitol is in the Hylo-forte eye drops I am taking and they make me feel dizzy. Is it the sorbitol? I now know that it is in crab sticks and they make me ill.

By anon992258 — On Aug 26, 2015

@popcorn: I do not remember the name, but there is a company in the U.S. that uses honey as its sweetener because it is targeted at people with digestive issues. Last I had checked, there were no preservatives either, so you knew exactly what you were drinking. They do not offer any mainstream flavors, but the ones they have sounded good.

By anon336606 — On May 30, 2013

Sorbitol is carrageenan. It's the same stuff. Look it up and find out. This is a very dangerous algae. They are both like poison.

By donasmrs — On Dec 11, 2012

@literally45-- If you're a diabetic, you need to consume sweetened snacks in moderation even when they're made with sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol.

I actually don't think that you're having issues due to sorbitol. You are probably eating too much as you also mentioned.

Don't forget that diabetic snacks like cookies and chocolates also have carbohydrates in them. Everything we eat is eventually turned into glucose in our body. So even though you are not technically eating sugar with these foods, they will raise your blood glucose to some degree.

So eat in moderation and check your blood sugar levels before and after eating a new food to see how it affects you.

By fBoyle — On Dec 11, 2012

@anon159621-- That's right.

Something else I learned recently is that sugar alcohol has nothing to do with alcohol. Sugar alcohol is a carbohydrate. So sorbitol is a carbohydrate.

By literally45 — On Dec 10, 2012

I know sorbitol isn't supposed to affect blood sugar. But I swear, whenever I eat diabetic snacks and candies with sorbitol in it, my sugar goes up.

I don't know if I end up eating too much because it's sugar-free or if my body actually metabolizes sorbitol faster than it's supposed to.

I try to avoid foods with sorbitol in them for this reason, although this is getting harder and harder to do. It's in many foods now, it's sort of replacing sugar and corn syrup. But I just don't react well to it. And not just sorbitol, but I react badly to all sugar alcohol additives.

By anon243099 — On Jan 26, 2012

You need to add Potassium Phosphate.

By seag47 — On Jul 28, 2011

I use sorbitol as a laxative. It is found in peaches, pears, apples, and prunes. Sometimes, I will eat a few apples a day to keep myself regular, but if I am suffering from constipation already, I will buy the laxative.

Sorbital works by drawing water into the large intestine. This stimulates the bowels to move.

You can either buy the laxative in pill form like I do or you can make use of the natural sorbitol found in prune juice, which many people use as a laxative. Be careful when drinking prune juice, though, because too much of it will give you gas and diarrhea.

By wavy58 — On Jul 27, 2011

@orangey03 - I like candy sweetened with either sorbitol or isomalt. To me, they taste about the same, so as long as the package does not say “contains aspartame,” I will probably eat it.

Isomalt has some calories, but only about half as many as sugar. You won’t find it in diet sodas because of this. Like sorbitol, isomalt is used in some toothpastes, because it is safe for your teeth.

Isomalt is used in two of my favorite hard candies. Sugar-Free Lifesavers and Sugar-Free Sunkist Candy are both sweetened with it. I eat these at my desk when my mouth gets bored and I don’t want to eat anything fattening.

By orangey03 — On Jul 27, 2011

I prefer sorbitol to aspartame, because it doesn’t make me feel as bad. I had been drinking diet soft drinks sweetened with aspartame, and I felt fatigued and just generally awful. When I stopped drinking them, my condition improved. I had read that aspartame was bad for you, and now I believe it.

Sorbitol is an ingredient in several sugar-free hard candies that I eat when the craving for a soda hits me. Since sucking on a candy takes longer than drinking a soda, yet it continually provides your mouth with flavor, it keeps me from wanting aspartame-laden drinks. I am careful not to eat too many of them, however, because I know that they can cause diarrhea.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 26, 2011

So sorbitol is what gives imitation crab that slightly sweet flavor! I guess I thought the surimi was naturally sweet. Well, at least I know now that it doesn’t contain any added sugar, and this slow-metabolizing stuff will be less likely to make me hyper.

That perfect hint of sweetness in the crab is what makes it taste good with a cucumber and saltines. The subtle hint of sorbitol blends perfectly with the fishy taste. The cucumber adds a coolness to the mix, and the saltines make for a salty/sweet combination.

By letshearit — On Jul 26, 2011

Sorbitol is one of the sweeteners used that has a lot of controversy surrounding it. While it may be technically safe, it can certainly cause a lot of stomach issues for those that use it.

If you find yourself bloated and suffering from stomach cramps after eating things like ice cream and prepared cake mixes you may be having a reaction to the sorbitol in the products.

Sorbitol reactions are mild in most people, and usually will go away in a few hours.

If you experience excessive itching, develop hives or someone close to you has a seizure when they have no known history of such things, make sure to mention to the doctor what has been ate and drank. Severe sorbitol reactions are not unheard of.

By popcorn — On Jul 25, 2011

When it comes to calorie reduced sodas, or those that are calorie-free I think we really don't have much choice but to drink chemicals like sorbitol. While I personally don't have a problem drinking anything with sorbitol in it, my best friend has to avoid most artificial sweeteners because they wreak havoc on her digestive track. It is really a shame that she can't just enjoy a soda without so many problems.

Has anyone found a drink that tastes sweet but lacks fructose corn syrup or any artificial sweeteners?

I would like to try something a bit healthier that tastes great, without having to ingest more chemicals. If it tastes great to me, I'll pass it on to my friend.

By fify — On Jul 25, 2011

Sorbitol is actually sometimes used for soap making. Originally, the recipe for homemade soap requires regular sugar, glycerin and alcohol but some people prefer to use sorbitol instead of the sugar.

I'm not sure of the exact reason but perhaps it makes the mixture more uniform. I am planning on making some glycerin soap soon. I might replace the sugar with sorbitol this time to see how it comes out.

By anon164492 — On Apr 01, 2011

To FernValley: Look up "Dangers of Aspartame." You might well change your mind.

By anon159621 — On Mar 12, 2011

Sorbitol is neither a monosaccharide nor disaccharide. That's because it's not a sugar, but rather a polyol or sugar alcohol.

By FernValley — On Feb 21, 2011

I try to avoid sorbitol sweeteners because I have Irritable bowel syndrome, however things like aspartame and stevia sweeteners do not give me trouble.

By anon130291 — On Nov 28, 2010

Could you add whether it is a monosaccharide or disaccharide as this could prove to be helpful info for many people. For example how would a monosaccharide differ to a disaccharide when added to yeast and the amount of CO2 respired then recorded to see whether different sugars will effect yeast respiration.

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