Polyols are also known as sugar alcohols. The body cannot absorb them like regular sugar, so they pass through the digestive system relatively intact. Food manufacturers use them to add sweet flavor to foods and candy without contributing toward the calories.
Unfortunately, if you have a sensitive gut, these sugar alcohols may result in osmotic diarrhea. When you have a large fermentable carbohydrate load in your intestinal tract (see previous discussion on FODMAPs such as sugar alcohols, lactose or fructose), the body says, “Whoa, there’s a high concentration in there, I need to equalize that out.” So, it sucks extra water into your gut, causing cramping, bloating, gas, and often, diarrhea. High dose sugar alcohols have been used in the treatment of chronic constipation!
Where do you find polyols?
Polyols are added to sugar free gum, candy, and medications in the form of sorbitol, mannitol, or xylitol. They are also found naturally in some fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches and prunes. The only sugar alcohol that does not seem to aggravate diarrhea is erythritol, brand name Truvia®.
Some research indicates that you may be able increase your tolerance level to polyols by consuming a small amount daily, and gradually increasing the quantity.