Sorbitol Intolerance: What Can I Eat?

Anyone suffering from sorbitol intolerance is sensitive to the sugar alcohol sorbitol (also sorbitol, E 420). It is used by industry as an artificial sugar substitute but is also found naturally in some foods. If you have a sorbitol intolerance, you should avoid these foods.

What is sorbitol?

Sorbitol is a sugar substitute. It is mainly used in the industry to sweeten food and is often found in baked goods. However, sorbitol should not be confused with a sweetener: Just like fructose, it belongs to the sugar alcohols, is obtained from natural raw materials, and is produced with the help of glucose enzymes. It must be marked in the list of ingredients under “Sweetener sorbitol” or “Sweetener E 420”. In addition, sorbitol is also used as a humectant or in ice cream. It also occurs naturally in some foods.

Sweetness for diabetics: the sugar substitute sorbitol

The sugar alcohol contains around 2.4 calories per gram and thus only half as much as normal table sugar (sucrose) with 4 calories per gram. Since no insulin is needed for its metabolism in the body, sorbitol is a wonderful sugar substitute for diabetics. So they don’t have to do without the sweetness in many foods.

Sorbitol intolerance or sorbitol intolerance

A sorbitol intolerance (also: sorbitol intolerance or sorbitol malabsorption) is food intolerance. Normally, sorbitol is absorbed into the blood through the intestinal wall and broken down in the liver. If the absorption of sorbitol in the small intestine is disturbed, digestive problems such as flatulence, diarrhea, and abdominal pain can occur. Symptoms also include a feeling of fullness and tiredness. An intolerance is diagnosed with an H2 breath test, which measures the proportion of gases that only colon bacteria cause.

If you have a sorbitol intolerance, you should avoid foods with sugar and alcohol for at least 14 days. Once the symptoms have subsided, those affected can slowly put sorbitol-containing products back on their menu. The aim is to find out your tolerance limit. Unlike other intolerances, in the case of sorbitol, small amounts of the substance – between 10 and 20 grams a day – can often be tolerated.

Note: Many people with fructose intolerance also react to products with sorbitol.

What happens with too much sorbitol?

Too much sorbitol has a laxative effect, even if you do not suffer from an intolerance. According to nutrition experts, a quantity of up to 5 grams of sorbitol per day is considered harmless. If, on the other hand, the sugar alcohol is ingested in larger quantities (20 grams or more), almost all people react with diarrhea and abdominal cramps. This is how much sorbitol there is in a portion of diet jam (30 grams).

For this reason, products with a sorbitol content of more than 10 percent must display a corresponding note on the packaging (e.g. “Excessive consumption can have a laxative effect”).

Which foods contain sorbitol?

Sugar alcohol is found naturally in various types of fruit such as stone and pome fruit, both fresh and canned. Dried fruit contains a particularly large amount of sorbitol, as the fruit loses water and weight, but the sorbitol content remains the same. The situation is similar with jams made from these fruits.

Foods naturally containing sorbitol include:

  • plums
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Jams, dried fruit, and juices made from these fruits

Foods with the sugar substitute include:

  • Baked goods and ready meals
  • Sweets
  • Fruit juices
  • Ice
  • Chewing gum
  • Granola bar
  • Chocolate
  • Sugar-free (diet) products (e.g. candy and chewing gum)

As part of a chemical compound, sorbitol is also hidden behind other E numbers, for example, E 432, E 433, E 434, E 435, and E 436 – it is worth taking a close look at the list of ingredients. Sorbitol is also found in some medicines and almost every toothpaste: it reduces acid production and counteracts tooth decay. Because you don’t usually swallow toothpaste, it’s harmless. A look at the ingredients is only advisable for children.

Sorbitol Free Foods

Anyone who suffers from sorbitol intolerance should use foods without or with little sorbitol. These include, among others:

  • Pineapple
  • Bananas
  • Red and black currants
  • Gooseberries
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables (e.g. peppers, spinach, aubergines, radishes, broccoli, peas, fennel, olives, asparagus, onions)
  • Grain
  • Potatoes
  • Kiwi
  • Melons
  • Rice
  • Unprocessed meat
  • Oil and vinegar

To avoid sorbitol, you should avoid foods containing sorbitol as much as possible, read the list of ingredients carefully, and, above all, listen to your gut. So you can live with a sorbitol intolerance without any problems.

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