On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Sugarless Candy Causing Stomach Upset

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I began to experience stomach issues when I cut back on sugars. I wasn’t sure whether it was a new medical condition, a food allergy or even stress (I did miss my sweets, but not THAT much). I went in for tests, but during the interview with the gastroenterologist, we discussed whether I was eating sugarless candies. This was something I had begun doing -- having sugarless candies and gums instead of my real sweets. The tests came back normal, but, as advised, I eliminated the sugarless stuff, and my problems have disappeared. I thought this would be of interest. -- T.S., Anderson, South Carolina

DEAR T.S.: The sweeteners most commonly used in sugarless gums and mints are xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol. These substances are members of the sugar alcohol family. (Note: The “alcohol” in the name won’t get one intoxicated; it refers to a functional group in the substance’s structure.) Even though sugar alcohols are classified as sugars, they’re referred to as “sugarless” sweeteners because they don’t promote tooth decay. This is because the bacteria in and around our teeth cannot digest sugar alcohols and use them to produce the enamel-destroying acid that harms our teeth.

One of the negatives with these sweeteners is that they attract water when they’re in the digestive tract, and this can lead to digestive upsets -- such as diarrhea and cramping -- in some people. They are not efficiently absorbed, so sugar alcohols often end up in the large intestine. There, they become an attractive food for our microbiome: the bacteria in the intestinal flora. The effect can be an increased production of intestinal gas.

The symptoms are mild when small amounts are consumed, or when they are eaten with or after a meal. If, however, large quantities are eaten, such as several mints or sticks of sugarless gum -- particularly on an empty stomach -- the result can be the type of upset you experienced. My compliments to your doctor.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: You had a recent column about the benefits of almonds. You did not mention whether the same benefits can be derived from eating raw or roasted almonds. Can you please clarify this for me? I prefer roasted, but will switch to raw if they are better for me. -- L., via email

DEAR L.: Enjoy the ones you prefer. In the scheme of things, the nutritional difference between roasted and raw almonds is insignificant. Side note: I also go for roasted (lightly salted) almonds.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.