What is a Polyol?

September 18, 2012

CHICAGO—Sugar reduction is an important goal for consumers, government, and industry as nutrition experts have put a strong emphasis on reducing intake of added sugars and consuming fewer calories. In the September 2012 issue of Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), Contributing Writers Lyn Nabors and Theresa Hedrick write about how a group of reduced-calorie, low-digestible, and low-glycemic carbohydrates called polyols (pronounced pol-ee-awl-ol) can be used in place of sugar to reduce calories but provide the same function as sugar in food.

Polyols are also known as sugar alcohols because part of their chemical structure resembles sugar, and part of it resembles alcohol.  They function well in candies, ice cream, baked goods, fillings and frostings, canned fruits, beverages, and more. There are eight polyols available for use in the U.S.

Polyols have about half of the calories of sugar. They have a clean, sweet taste and because they are reduced in calories they don’t cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. Therefore, they can play a useful role in reducing the overall glycemic load of the diet and may help to reduce the risk of a variety of lifestyle-related diseases without sacrificing taste.

In addition to calorie reduction, polyols aren’t readily converted to acid in the mouth, which means they don’t promote tooth decay. The FDA has even authorized the language “does not promote tooth decay” for sugar-free products sweetened with polyols. They are often used in toothpaste, mouthwash, and pharmaceutical products such as cough syrups and throat lozenges.  

Editor’s Note: A study on tagatose, a low-calorie sweetener with various functional properties, is in the September 2012 issue of Journal of Food Science. Read the abstract here.


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