Sorbitol & polyols
Sorbitol is commonly used as a sweetener in reduced calorie food or drink (i.e. ‘diet’ or ‘light’), but also occurs naturally. Sorbitol may be listed as an additive with the E-number E420 on food labels. Doses greater than 5g cause intestinal symptoms and diarrhea in a significant proportion of individuals.
In case of proven sorbitol intolerance the following food and products may cause symptoms:
- Diet / ‘light’ and diabetic drinks, sugar-free chewing gum and sweets / candies. One stick of sugar-free chewing gum generally contains 1 – 2g sorbitol. The sorbitol is often contained in the outer ‘taste’ coating around the gum.
- Fruit: dried fruit and stone fruit (i.e. fruit with stones in the middle): apple, apricot, date, fig, nectarine, peach, pear, plum, prune and raisin.
- Beer contains a low concentration of sorbitol and may therefore cause sorbitol-related symptoms in large amounts.
- Isomalt and lycasin, alternative sweeteners that are predominantly used in confectionary, contain sorbitol.
- Some medicines contain sorbitol as bulking agents or to improve taste, e.g. mouthwashes, cough syrups and laxatives
- Food known to contain significant amounts of sorbitol are shown in the table below.
Sorbitol Content in Gram/100G
|Beer||0 – 0.5|
|Chewing gum, ‘sugar-less’||40|
|Chewing gum, ‘sugar-less’ per gum strip||1|
|Dried fruit mix||2|
|Horseradish sauce / wasabi||11|
|Jams / marmalades for diabetics with sorbitol||8 - 10|
|Plum juice||1 - 6|
|Sweets / candies for diabetics||35 – 95|
Xylitol (E967 is xylitol), another sugar alcohol, can produce similar intolerance symptoms as sorbitol and concurrent intolerances to both are very common. It should be avoided in case of sorbitol and fructose intolerance. Xylitol exists naturally in many fruit, mushrooms, vegetables, oats, corn and birch trees, and is used extensively in sugar-free sweets / candies, as well as chewing gum.
Sorbitol, xylitol and fructose intolerances often co-exist and sorbitol decreases fructose tolerance.
Mannitol is a further sugar alcohol mainly found in cauliflower, mushrooms, pumpkin, seaweed, celery, candies, peach and chewing gum. In sensitive individuals the symptoms will be the same as with sorbitol intolerance.