Lactitol is a member of the family of bulk sweeteners known as polyols ( sugar alcohols ).
It was first discovered in 1920, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s when it was first used in foods as a reduced-calorie sweetener.
Despite only being 40% as sweet as sucrose, the sugar alcohol is very similar in taste.
Due to its stability, solubility, low calorie value and similar taste to sucrose, lactitol can be used in a range of low-calorie, low-fat and/or sugar-free foods such as:
Its mild sweetness also makes it suitable for blending with other low-calorie sweeteners that are several hundred times sweeter than sucrose, but do not provide the necessary volume.
The substance is produced by reducing the glucose part of the disaccharide lactose. It is not hydrolysed or absorbed in the small intestine.
Instead, lactitol is metabolised by bacteria in the large intestine, where it is converted into biomass, organic acids, carbon dioxide and a small amount of hydrogen.
Further metabolisation of the organic acids results in a caloric contribution of just 2 calories per gram.
Benefits of Lactitol
The benefits of lactitol include:
Mild sweet flavour with no aftertaste
Lactitol has a clean sweet, sugar-like taste, which allows it to be mixed with other low-calorie sweeteners.
The relative sweetness of lactitol rises as its concentration in a food is increased and it leaves no aftertaste.
Low in calories
Lactitol is metabolised in the large intestine and yields roughly 2 calories per gram compared to a typical carbohydrate (or sugar) which contributes the usual 4 kcal/g.
In Europen, the EU Nutrition Labelling Directive states that all sugar alcohols, including lactitol, have a caloric value of 2.4 kcal/g.
Does not contribute to tooth decay
Lactitol is not metabolised by oral bacteria which break down sugars and starches to release acids that may lead to cavities or the erosion of tooth enamel This oral health benefit of maltitol and other sugar alcohols is recognised by various health groups/associations across the globe.
Useful in production of high quality, low-calorie foods
Due to its qualities as a bulk sweetener, lactitol is a versatile ingredient for high quality, low-calorie and sugar-free foods.
As well as having similar solubility to glucose, it is not hygroscopic (i.e. does not absorb moisture into products), is stable in acid and alkaline conditions and remains stable under the high temperatures of food processing. It also prolongs the shelf life of cookies and chewing gum.
Lactitol’s mild sweetness also makes it ideal for use alongside other low-calorie sweeteners such as acesulfame K, aspartamen, saccharin and sucralose, as well as other polyols such as sorbitol and xylitol.
Helpful to diabetics
Foods that contain lactitol as an alternative to sugar may be useful for people with diabetes as the polyol has a low glycemic index, does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels , and only contributes half the calories of table sugar (2.4 kcal/g compared to 4.0 for sucrose).
Before shopping for foods sweetened with lactitol and other sugar alcohols , diabetics should consult their GP/diabetes specialist as some of these products may contain other ingredients that contribute calories and other nutrients, which may not be suitable for their diet plan
The safety of lactitol as a food additive has been confirmed by numerous animal and human studies.
In the early 1980s, analysis of scientific data on lactitol led to both the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) – a prestigious scientific advisory body to the World Health Organisation – and the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Union giving lactitol an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of “not specified”.
ADI is the amount of a food additive that can be consumed daily over a lifetime without risk and an ADI of “not specified” is the safest category in which a food additive can be placed.
Following its analysis, the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Union stated that consumption of 20 grams per day of polyols, including lactitol, is unlikely to cause undesirable laxative symptoms.