Maltitol is a sugar alcohol that is also a polyol. It is often used in foods as a sweetener since it is around 75-90% as sweet as sucrose.
It is naturally found in small amounts in some foods such as some fruits, vegetables and chicory.
Typically, it is manufactured rather than found naturally in food. This is done by adding hydrogen to maltose, most frequently from corn starch.
Is it Safe?
Maltitol is safe. But there are certain factors to be aware of.
One of these factors is that can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhoea.
This is part of why it is removed during a low-FODMAP diet.
It can take pretty large amounts to trigger symptoms in most people though.
At a >50g dosage, some countries require it to be listed with a laxative warning. At a 40g dosage, maltitol does seem to trigger those other gastrointestinal symptoms, but does not have a noticeable laxative effect.
Most products have noticeably less maltitol than that amount, but small dosages, particularly if consumed frequently, could still contribute to symptoms.
The other concern from a safety perspective is to factor in that maltitol still contains calories and raises blood glucose levels.
What Products Typically Contain Maltitol
The main products that contain maltitol are typically lower carb/sugar versions of products.
For example, a lot of low-carb protein bars contain it.
In Australia, this is a bit of a loophole. Maltitol is not technically a carb. And since it is also not a protein or fat, it means it does not show up in the nutrition information panel.
It still shows up in the ingredients and it also is counted in the calories, but it can look a little misleading since the macros will not line up with the calories.
Why Do Companies Use it?
From one perspective, it actually can be a beneficial switch. If you switched sugar for a similar amount of maltitol, you could reduce the calories and glycaemic index of a product.
The glycaemic index of maltitol has been reported as being somewhere between 35 and 52. Meanwhile, table sugar has a GI of around 65.
From a calorie perspective:
Maltitol has ~2.4kcal/g.
Sugar/Carbs have 4kcal/g.
This can be an easy way to reduce calories slightly.
From the other perspective, companies can make products low-carb, even while being high in maltitol, since it is not listed on the nutritional information panel.
Even though it is not listed on the nutritional information panel, it DOES still need to be listed in the ingredients.
The average person will not understand the nuance and likely will just see that the product is lower carb and lower sugar. Therefore, it can be a good tool to increase the appeal of a product.
Does It Raise Blood Glucose Levels?
Maltitol does raise blood glucose levels. Not to the same extent as sugar, but it still does raise them.
This is one aspect that does annoy me a little bit about companies using it and marketing their products as low-carb.
Because they are not lying or anything like that. Maltitol is not a carbohydrate. But what if somebody with diabetes is choosing their product, and not factoring in that it will still contribute to raising their blood glucose levels?
Maltitol is lower GI than sucrose in addition to being a lower calorie option. This is part of why it raises blood glucose levels less.
It makes sense to factor in a bit of an increase in blood glucose levels, but less than if the product contained was based on sugar instead of maltitol.
Maltitol can be a great sugar substitute. It can help reduce the calories as well as the impact on blood glucose levels.
If you are consuming a product with maltitol in it though, it is worthwhile being aware that it still contains calories, it still contributes to an increase in blood glucose levels, and there is potential for some gastrointestinal symptoms to occur if it is consumed in larger amounts.