Mannitol is another member of the sugar alcohol (polyols) family.
It has a pleasant sweet taste (roughly 60% as sweet as sucrose), provides few calories and is commonly used in the production of food and pharmaceutical products due to its unique functional properties.
Large quantities of mannitol can be found in exudates from trees, and in marine algae and fresh mushrooms. It is an isomer of sorbitol and is today typically produced by the hydrogenation of specialty glucose syrups.
Benefits of Mannitol
Mannitol is a member of the sugar alcohol family and has the following advantages:
Unlike sorbitol, mannitol does not absorb moisture into products (non-hygroscopic), and is therefore often used as a dusting powder for chewing gum to prevent the gum from sticking to manufacturing equipment and wrappers.
It is also included in chocolate-flavoured coating agents for ice cream and sweets due to its high melting point and does not discolor at high temperatures, which makes it ideal for use in pharmaceuticals and nutritional tablets.
Protects against tooth decay
Polyols such as mannitol are known to help prevent the development of dental caries (tooth decay).
Like other sugar alcohols, mannitol is resistant to metabolism by oral bacteria which break down sugars and starches to release acids that can lead to cavities or the erosion of tooth enamel (i.e. it is non-cariogenic).
This oral health benefit of mannitol and other sugar alcohols is recognised by various health groups/associations across the globe.
Like all polyols, mannitol is only partially absorbed from the small intestinal, meaning part of the ingested substance reaches the large intestine where metabolism yields fewer calories.
Each gram serving of mannitol has only 1.6 calories, which is less than half the calorie value of sucrose (4.0 kcal/g).
This makes it very useful in the production of sugar-free products.
Useful for people with diabetes
Because mannitol is only partially absorbed by the body, it significantly reduces the rise in blood glucose and insulin levels that occur following the ingestion of glucose.
This combined with its low calorie value (1.6 kcal/g), which is very beneficial for weight control, makes mannitol a useful alternative sweetener for people with diabetes. In fact, products sweetened with mannitol in place of sugar help provide diabetics with a wider range of low-calorie and sugar-free options.
Before tuning to sugar alcohol-sweetened products, diabetics should discuss the usefulness of polyols such as mannitol with their GP/diabetes specialist as some foods/drinks sweetened with these sugar alcohols may contain other ingredients which may not be suitable for their diet.
The World Health Organisation’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has reviewed safety data on the use of mannitol in food and concluded that the polyol is safe.
As with all polyols, excess consumption (more than 50 grams a day) may cause a laxative effect similar to the effects of complex carbohydrate foods such as beans or prunes – e.g. softer stools and/or more intestinal gas than usual.