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Sorbitol: friend or foe?


Sorbitol is not an ingredient known to everyone. But when you have IBS, you tend to be more in tune with what’s in your foods and crucially how that affects your gut. So you might already be familiar with sorbitol- a sweetener that is often added to foods to make them sweet without added sugar. Let’s explore whether sorbitol is a gut friend or a gut foe!





Should you avoid sorbitol for good gut health?


Natural laxative


Sorbitol is a natural laxative and it helps you poop more by softening your stool and increasing its water content. If you have IBS-D this could be a problem! This sweetener could cause you to have more diarrhea-like symptoms. However, if you have IBS-C then it may actually help with emptying your bowels.


Bloating, cramps, and flatulence


The NHS website recommends avoiding sorbitol to prevent bloating, cramps and flatulence. This is because of its effect on poop. Studies have shown that sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal symptoms (gas, urgency, bloating, abdominal cramps) in a dose-dependent manner (5 to 20g per day). This means that the greater the amount of sorbitol in your food, the greater the possibility of these symptoms which are also classic symptoms of IBS! Doses of more than 20g per day can cause diarrhea - which is bad news for people with IBS-D.


What’s more, sorbitol is often found in sugar-free chewing gum and this can cause a double whammy of effects. Chewing gum on its own has been shown to increase bloating since you often swallow excess air when chewing it.

Listen to your gut


Remember that every gut is different and this effect of sorbitol is greater when you eat large amounts. A small amount of sorbitol may be tolerable for you. It’s always important to know your own body the best and see if you are getting any symptoms after having foods that contain sorbitol.


Should you replace sugar with sweeteners?


You may be considering whether sweeteners are healthier than sugar. Or you may have some doubts about sweeteners. The good news is that sweeteners approved for use in the UK are perfectly safe to eat. Cancer research organizations have conducted large-scale studies that have proven the safety of sweeteners and shown no link to cancer.


There can be some benefit from using sweeteners instead of sugar if you are diabetic since they are less likely to give you erratic blood sugar levels. Also, sweeteners may be less likely to cause you to have tooth decay.


High intake of both sugar and sweeteners has been linked to obesity and an increased risk of heart diseases. However, there is limited research for sweeteners and a more established link with excessive sugar intake.


Again, it is important to make a decision based on your own health and your own body rather than just following general guidelines. You can even discuss with your doctor to find the best option for you.


Sweeteners, sugar, and the microbiome


Another important thing to consider is the effect of sweeteners versus sugar on your gut microbiome. The good bacteria in your gut are crucial to not only having a happy gut but also your overall health.


There is a link between eating highly processed foods that contain refined sugar and dysbiosis whereby the gut bacteria get imbalanced with more bad bacteria.


Sorbitol comes from the group of sweeteners known as polyols which means it is a prebiotic. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut. This helps your microbiome stay diverse. Good bacteria in the gut can produce gases and this may be another reason why it can cause bloating.


The bottom line


It is important for you to explore what works for you. If you’ve already noticed the links between sorbitol and some gut symptoms then now you know a lot more about that. Prebiotics in general can be very good for your gut despite the fact that they may increase some symptoms. Managing the symptoms rather than removing the prebiotic completely is likely to be more beneficial. If you’re interested in learning how to cope with IBS-related symptoms then check out the Zemedy app which takes you on a step-by-step approach to managing IBS with ease.




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