Sugar Alcohols: Gas, Bloat & Pain?

Sometimes being a Nutritionist is a lot like being a detective. When people face issues regarding their well being and the medical community can’t seem to offer any answers or solutions, people will often turn to the Institute of Eating Management & Relapse Prevention Center for answers. If any of you find yourselves suffering from excessive gas, bloat and acute abdominal pain and your doctor can’t seem to identify or offer any solutions, you might want to pay close attention to this article.

As people are trying to be healthier, many will rightfully try to cut back their consumption of sugar. Food companies have responded by creating a long list of sugar-free products to accommodate the general public’s goals. In order to remove sugar from all kinds of foods, the prevalence and use of sugar substitutes has skyrocketed and reached a level never seen before in our food supply.

Not too long ago a client came in explaining that she’d been rushed to the hospital twice after doubling up in severe abdominal pain. Both times she was admitted to the hospital she underwent a multitude of scans and blood tests that ended up costing thousands of dollars. And both times she came away with no answers and no explanations. So she ended up in my office. More recently another client of mine suffered from the exact same issues and it too cost her thousands of dollars with absolutely zero information on the culprit. It baffled both of them, one minute they’re fine, feeling good, the next minute they are doubled over in pain.

After examining what they ate each day I mentioned that it could be one of two things:  a 3+ food allergy or a sensitivity to a sugar substitute. To rule it out, I first explained the effects of sugar alcohols in sensitive people. I made them aware of the names (kinds) of sugar alcohols and asked that they pay attention to how they may be slipping into their diet. Both told me that they don’t eat products with sugar alcohols, but both agreed to start paying attention. It’s important to mention here that no two people respond the exact same way to sugar alcohols. Some don’t experience any stabbing pain, but instead, have constant gas and/or bloat.

Sure enough in the first case, every day after lunch, she would grab two pieces of sugar-free candy off her associate’s desk. Within 2 hours she was doubled over and in excruciating pain. In the second person, she realized that every time she sucked on a sugar-free Hall’s fruit flavored cough drop, which she had recently started using to curb her sweet tooth. The gas, pain and bloating struck her like a Mack truck. It was a very eye-opening experience for both to realize how sensitive they are to specific sugar alcohols. Not everyone is sensitive, but if you’re having excessive gas, bloat and/or pain, it could be hidden sugar alcohols in your some of the foods you eat.

What’s confusing for a lot of people is that one sugar alcohol can induce the issues while another one may not. And it’s important for my clients to understand which one causes their issues and all the different names they fall under. So why can one cause issues and another one doesn’t? It’s due to the number of carbon atoms each is made from and how that specific product affects your intestinal lining. For example, Isomalt was the culprit in the second case, and it contains a 12 chain carbon. But her chewing gum doesn’t bother her because the sugar alcohol in her chewing gum is called Mannitol which is a 6 chain carbon. There are about 20-30 various sugar alcohols used in the food industry today and their use has skyrocketed to levels never seen before. However, only 18 of them are used heavily in our food supply.

They’re even hidden in things you’d never realize. For example, the sugar substitute called Truvia isn’t actually Stevia, it’s actually about 90% Erythritol, which is a 4 chain carbon sugar alcohol. So while that may not bother some, for those it does bother I’ll bet they had no idea that sugar substitute isn’t high in Stevia at all, it’s high in Erythritol! However, if you use it and have no issues, you can keep using it. But if you’re having unexplained issues, be aware that it could be coming from your Truvia. Just don’t delude yourself into believing that you’re actually using Stevia, it’s only about 10% stevia and 90% erythritol.

Another product that has created a major issue for a lot of people is inulin. Oddly enough this one isn’t a sugar alcohol, but instead is a probiotic fiber and is also goes by the name chicory root. It’s touted as being really good for people, and is added into a lot of bars and shakes. While sugar alcohols don’t bother my tummy, a few of them really tear Kim apart. Inulin happens to be one of those ingredients that causes very sharp, intestinal pain for me. It’s so painful in fact, that I have to lie down and wait for it to pass. And like a lot of people, if I didn’t know as much as I do about food additives and sugar alcohols, I definitely would have headed to the medical emergency center thinking I had colon cancer. That in turn would have prompted scans, a colonoscopy and several visits to my doctor as well as thousands of dollars in medical expenses. Thankfully I was able to identify the culprit before imagining that I would need to write my obituary and buy a coffin. Trust me on this, when you have a reaction to sugar alcohols, if it’s as severe as some of the folks I’ve been seeing, you’ll think you’re dying.

Sadly, as the use of these ingredients has increased across our food supply to unprecedented levels, and in turn so has the number of clients I’m seeing describing all the issues I’ve mentioned above. Below is a list of all the sugar alcohols by name, and in most cases these are the names you’ll see on the labels of foods that contain them. I put them in alphabetical order to make the list a bit more organized.

About the Author: Keith Klein CN CCN

Want to get into your best shape ever with Keith Klein? Keith is co-founder of Lean Body Coaching, a results-driven one-on-one nutritional counseling Get Lean™ program. For more information, visit

This 6-month online Get Lean™ program is dedicated to showing people how to eat to be healthy and leaner and includes a 3-month relapse prevention program which teaches the clients how to keep their weight off.

Keith trained in Clinical Nutrition at the Institute of Specialized Medicine during the late 1970’s. He spent five years at the Institute working alongside six of Houston’s most prestigious physicians. He ran the dietetic department of all four Houston locations where he treated various patients with clinical disorders. Disorders like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and other health-related problems.

In 1984, Keith became the Dietetic Director at Houston’s Bariatric Center with psychiatrist Dr.John H. Simms. It was Keith who designed and implemented the dietary protocol and dietetic programs that were used in all four of Dr. Simms’ clinics. The main focus was on treating patients with eating disorders and obesity. It was during this time that Keith developed most of his work pertaining to the Psychology of Eating Management and Relapse Prevention.

After Dr. Simms retired, Keith (in conjunction with Dr. Ron Preston) opened both The Texas Nutrition Clinic and the Houston Sports Medicine Clinic. During this time Keith combined all of his previous experiences in clinical practice with the dietary protocol for a wide range of athletic endeavors and sports.

Today Keith owns and operates The Institute of Eating Management & Relapse Prevention Center which he opened in 1990 -the present. Here Keith has a wide range of various nutritionists trained in all of his principles where they see a variety of different patients each day.

Other Notable Points:
• Chief of Nutrition for the Houston’s Sheriff’s Department
• Nutritionist for the Houston Areo’s hockey team
• Voted Nutritionist of The Year by the North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation
• Voted Lifetime Achievement Award by the NPC bodybuilding federation

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.