4 Common Maltitol Side Effects

Maltitol side effects include a variety of digestive problems including diarrhea, gas, and abdominal discomfort.

maltitol

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol. It is about 90 percent as sweet as sugar but contains a little over half of the calories.

A lot of people want to decrease their sugar intake, and with good reason; too much sugar can increase your chances of dementia, contribute to osteoporosis, and more. But are artificial sweeteners the way to go?

There are a multitude of alternatives to sugar, including stevia, agave, coconut sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

The most commonly used artificial sweeteners used commercially are sugar alcohols, like xylitol and maltitol. But before you eat too many of these sugar-free products, you should be aware of the side effects.

What Is Maltitol?

Maltitol is a sugar alcohol. It is about 90 percent as sweet as sugar but contains a little over half of the calories. It also has a lower glycemic index than sugar, so it may be preferable for preventing blood sugar spikes. It is considered non-digestible, which means that bacteria in the mouth cannot metabolize it, helping protect against dental caries.[1]

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What Foods Contain Maltitol?

Maltitol can be found in sugar-free sweets like gum, chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods. It also can be found in gelatin capsules, and so can be an ingredient in many supplements.

Maltitol Side Effects

While maltitol does have some advantages over table sugar, such as a lower caloric value and glycemic index, it is not completely safe to consume in large amounts. Consumption is associated with a variety of digestive disturbances.

One study compared products containing regular sugar and those containing maltitol. They found that after eating the products with maltitol, participants in the study reported significantly higher gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal discomfort, flatulence (gas), and bloating.[2]

Other maltitol dangers include diarrhea; maltitol is considered a laxative when consumed in large amounts and is associated with frequent diarrhea.[1,3]

Alternative Options

Although maltitol can be safe to eat in small amounts, there are many other alternative sweeteners you can try instead if you want to reduce your sugar intake while avoiding gastrointestinal symptoms at the same time.

Try these in your next recipe and see how you like them:

  • Dates
  • Coconut sugar
  • Agave
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Stevia

Share Your Experience

We personally like coconut sugar in place of brown sugar, and agave or brown rice syrup in recipes like rice crispy treats (try this recipe for Crisped Rice Bird’s Nests). What are your favorite alternatives to sugar? Have you ever experienced side effects from maltitol? Share your thoughts on both dangers and benefits in the comments section below.

For related reading, visit these posts:


[1] J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2008 Aug;54(4):309-14.

[2] Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;68(5):575-80.

[3] Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jan;57(1):26-30.


Originally published in 2015, this post is regularly updated.

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Comments
  • Amanda M.

    I read recently that Agave is more highly processed than even high fructose corn syrup. What are your thoughts?

  • While alternative sweeteners might be better than using table sugar, most come with some downsides. Agave, for example, does go through a lot of processing before reaching the bottle (you can purchase raw agave, but even this does go through some processing). It is also high in fructose, which is not good to consume in large amounts.

    I do not use agave on a daily basis, and I don’t use a lot of it; instead, I use it in the occasional sweet treat. I tend to use different sweeteners in different recipes. Each come with their own pros and cons, and I like to balance these out, and I try not to eat large amounts of any of them. As with many things, I tend to believe that using these alternative sweeteners in moderation is best.

  • You are recommending Agave? In the syrup form that is commonly available, a number of researchers have reported that it is very high in fructose, higher in fact than corn syrup. So, what happens to all that fructose? It is metabolized in the liver to blood lipids – triglycerides. Most of the time agave “nectar” is marketed as a “natural” product, but there is not much natural about it. The agave plant does not produce any kind of nectar. Instead, the starchy root is processed to a sugary syrup, via chemical and heat treatment, that is loaded with fructose. A lower glycemic index, in this case, is not enough to justify a potential increase in serum triglycerides.

  • I found real Stevia powder at Whole Foods Market. It is green reasonably priced, and you don’t need to use very much to sweeten food or drinks. It is hard to blend in drinks and must be whisked well. I hope this helps.

  • Suzan W.

    I had a recent terrible reaction to Maltitol in Russell Stover’S Sugar Free Jelly Beans. It causes explosive diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, extreme flatulence and excessive bleeding for 4 days that sent me to the ER. I am now on a mission to expose this industry and bring about payment for emergency room costs due to the consumption of their products!!!!

  • Marina M.

    Christmas is coming up (yes it’s still October, I’m organized this year) and so, how much is too much? I want to get small boxes of chocolates that are sweetened with Maltitol, each choc is about 20g, so how much is considered a threshold for reaction? Thanks.

  • Marina M. – Here is an article I found about your question:

    “Maltitol attracts water from the intestinal wall (osmotic effect) so it can have a laxative effect. Laxation threshold for maltitol in healthy people is about 30 grams in a single dose or 100 grams per day [2-p.237;3]. Maltitol in doses at least 15 g/day is well tolerated by children [6]. Maltitol, when consumed in excess, can cause problems, such as abdominal bloating, pain or cramps, excessive gas (flatulence), loose stools or diarrhea.”

  • I bought Mrs.Pure’s sugar free oatmeal cookies and had the most severe diarrhea and abdominal pain ever for 3 days. I know it was the maltitol. It was different from flu. I also at one time had a milder reaction to Voortman’s flavored wafers. This should be taken off the market. I now have some unexpected bills due to this additive. I have had bleeding ulcers and diverticulosis and this could have been very dangerous. I am a careful eater and this all I had consumed to cause such a reaction. Take it off the market!

  • GrazieZG

    I ate two delicious sugar-free almond biscuits with maltitol in it today — one with breakfast, and all was well. Then I ate one after lunch. I immediately felt like I had a hypoglycemic reaction to the second biscuit — shaky, unpleasant feeling. Had to quickly eat protein to stop the reaction. Haven’t had a hypoglycemic reaction in years. Was it the maltitol? There wasn’t anything else in the ingredients that would cause this.

  • Had a bad reaction to Gerther’s pastilles which are laden with maltitol syrup.

  • This happened to me again! The 1st time was the dreaded sugar free gummy bears (just google it) explosive diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, extreme flatulence exactly as people above describe. Today I snacked on a Protein Plus Power Bar not sugar free on the label but “Reduced Sugar” was I an idiot to think oh I don’t need the extra calories.. Yes looking at the ingredients on the back it contained Maltitol. Damn it! they need to put a warning on these things or have the FDA do something to ban this stuff!

  • Chante' K.

    This stuff is the same as xylitol. Xylitol causes cancer in dogs so please don’t share your treats with your fur babies. But think about it — what is it doing to us ????

  • Cher W.

    I eat clean, and have removed sugar from my diet. Now, to lose some pounds quickly, the Atkins diet has always worked for me…pounds come off for about three weeks before my body decides that it’s had enough. Every few years I do jump on the diet. So, it’s been about three years since my last Atkins run, and I thought I’d treat myself to the Atkins “chocolate” coconut bar, forgetting that I’d never felt good after eating one bar. Four days ago, I ate one, and did the same the next day. I not only didn’t feel well on the third day, I experienced unrelenting, violent and painful diarrhea for the next 24 hours. I grabbed the box of Atkins bars and read “Maltitol,” with a consumer enlightenment that was too little, too late. First, eat clean. Second, this additive should require a black-box warning. Live and learn.

  • Bought some chocolate that was labeled no added sugar but in Italian and I didn’t know what the word for artificial sweetener was…. I thought they wrote Dolcificante Artificale but it wasdifferent so thought it was just a malt type of additive. Now I check again the packet and it’s the FIRST INGREDIENT so it must be at least 30% of the product 250g bar. That’s a lot!!!
    No warning like on chewing gum (over consumption will cause diarrhea) only Contains Natural Sugars.
    Dam I’ve been in pieces for hours now.
    Never again!!!
    God if an elderly person ate that I’d dread to think how risky it would be!!!
    Putting this on FB as I want to warn my friends and family!!!

  • daniella

    well the last 3 days i was eating some sugar free candy in addition to my normal eating routine and since then i have been having digestive problems like bloating, flatulence, strong diarrehea but no stomach pain and the symptoms were very annoying and continued for the whole 3 days that i have been taking this candy. I ate about 3 or 4 a day and the symptoms continued non stop and after reading the label i read Maltitol and i am sure this is the reason so i will stop it totally and never again because it is very uncomfortable feeling!

  • Laura (.

    We’re now a plant based diet, minimal grains, almost no dairy (ice cream- hey, we’re human) household. We use Russell Stover’s SF hard candies w/ maltitol (2-3 pieces) for a laxative periodically, and so far, minimal discomfort. The Haribo “SF Gummy Bear Cleanse” reads on Amazon were hilarious, but no thanks. “Everything in moderation, including moderation”-Erma Bombeck

  • Sherrie M.

    Just reading this after watching a show on sugar & all the names they use to make you think there isn’t much sugar in processed foods. So, I bought sugar free Hershey’s bars & today I decided to check what it has that allows them to call it “super free” & sure enough, it’s Maltitol. I have never had a reaction to it (though I’m not one to overeat it either). I also have a problem with constipation & take a lot of extra fiber, both in food & supplements. So, for me, I don’t think it’s an issue. But I certainly can see here that for some it is a terrible problem. No food or beverage is worth ending up in the hospital!
    My best to all!
    P.S. I am hoping that they don’t find stevia to be bad. The “cleanest eating” doctors are recommending it!

  • Sherrie M.

    Sorry, that was supposed to be “SUGAR free,” not “super.”

  • Just figured out what caused a day of horrible bloating and gas, with terrible abdominal discomfort — a sugar-free syrup (HEB brand) and a sugar-free angel food cake (Hill & Valley brand). Both contain maltitol.
    Never again! Will be reading labels more closely!

  • Glad to find this info on maltitol. All day gas, terrible bloating and diarrhea. Figured it to be a ‘sugar free’ peach syrup with maltitol! Will miss our evening plans, but at least not in ER like commenter above. Never again and yes, there should be a warning

  • Normally I have a very healthy diet, but I ate maltitol sweetened chocolate and ended up having terrible bloating and nausea all night. I will avoid it in the future.

  • I have been eating products with maltitol for a few months now. I went to India four months ago and was severely ill for three weeks. Since then I have been suffering from severe diarrhea for four months, really ruining my life. I thought it was from the irritation my intestines suffered from India. I have seen several doctors and specialists, and have had blood analysis and stool analysis, but nothing was found. But now I am aware that all this was caused Maltitol. Bloating, gas, explosive diarrhea resulting in dehydration, and more recently blood in my stools. Just because I was using a little bit of malitol in my hot drinks and using some sugar-free jam, both belonging to sugar-free products intended for people suffering from diabetes. I am only in my twenties but feel very bad for the months of health I have ruined, and feel bad for all the elderly people who are given this shit and are thought uncurable of their diarrhea.
    AVOID MALITOL!!!!!

  • I recently went on a low carb/keto diet and bought some low-carb snack bars at Aldi that were carb conscious with 2 net carbs. I am sure these are pretty identical to Atkins bars. Well I began starving for carbs/sweets the 2nd night of the diet and ended up eating 5 of these bars before bed. They aren’t terribly big. Well… you guessed it… woke up in the night… massive gas, bloating, diarrhea, some bleeding… for 6 hours… Maltitol… the stuff is evil. Definitely won’t be touching the sugar free chocolate covered almonds/peanuts which are mostly filled with the stuff. I have to watch any label if anything sugar free/carb conscious for maltitol and sorbitol which I react horribly to. Fortunately I think the memory of that night has kicked my craving for carbs as my mind shudders at the thought of those bars.

  • I was given a box of sugarfree candy for Valentines this year. The weekend before I had eaten several pieces of candy given to me by a friend who had received the candy from a friend of hers. In less than 3 hours I experienced severe gastrointestinal distress with all the symptoms others have named. Neither of us knew the candy was sugarfree at the time and I had no idea why I was so ill. When I received the sugarfree Valentines candy I read the ingredients and there was my answer. Malitol! I have yet to eat the Valentines candy and may not eat any of it but it did solve the mystery about the candy I had eaten the previous weekend. This should be taken off the market as should its cousin Mannitol which is found in many OTC and prescription drugs. Check the inactive ingredients in all and I mean all meds as this drug will make you sick to your stomach. One example is the OTC drug Zofran in pills for nausea!!! Malitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol should all be illegal as they make people sick. I have been unable to tolerate many meds due to Mannitol even though the active ingredients would have been a big help to me.

  • I’m so glad I’ve read all the stories relating to Maltitol above. I bought 50gm of SF Liquorice yesterday that contained maltitol & this morning I had what we like to say here, “a caramel cone explosion” !! Never again. Lesson learned.

  • Patricia G.

    I consumed Russell Stover “No Sugar Added” hard candies and have had severe abdominal cramps. I have no history of food allergies. Syrup of maltitol is one of the ingredients listed on package.

  • Britany

    Also sugar free Hershey’s chocolate chips. Cramps all night long made my chocolate chip cookies not so worth it. I think it also creates a desire for sugar, too, which I haven’t had for weeks since starting a keto diet. I definitely recommend avoiding these.

  • Bev v.

    Sugarless halva for my husband 84 who has dementia.
    I also had a piece. Later that evening stomach pains & later explosive diarrhoea. My poor husband the same reaction. I did research finding on the packet maltitol as sweetener. This should be banned. Made us ill & many many others Achva sugarless sesame halva. Be warned

  • Beverley v.

    Sugarless diabetic halva I had one piece, husband had 2. Few hours later, terrible stomach pain, followed by explosive dhiarea,
    Checked label on halva,to find Maltitol in it, googled it only to find
    Many many others with same outcome. Horrible experience

  • Mary M.

    Two nights ago, I had a small cone (2 scoops) of absolutely delicious, sugar free Caramel Pecan ice cream. Within 1 1/2 hours, I had the worst stomach/intestinal discomfort which quickly evolved into explosive Diarrhea lasting over 5 very unpleasant hours. By 3:00 a.m., I was ready to drive to the ER. I only reconsidered doing so as I was completely exhausted. Today, I called the ice cream/dairy farm and received a listing of the ingredients. The first ingredient of several was MALITOL SYRUP – an eye opener when researched. It does need to be taken off the market. It’s not safe!!!

  • Mary M.

    I misspelled the ingredient: It is MALTITOL SYRUP….

  • Donna M.

    I have Celiac disease and cannot eat wheat, barley and some oats. I understand it is not advisable to eat malt which comes from barley and just wondering if maltitol isn’t a derivative of malt as well. All of the symptoms people are experiencing…bloating, stomach pains and diarrhea are what I experience when I eat gluten. Atkins does have some bars which are labeled “Gluten Free” and they do not contain maltitol.

  • Donna M.

    I have Celiac disease and cannot eat wheat, barley and some oats. I understand it is not advisable to eat malt which comes from barley and just wondering if maltitol isn’t a derivative of malt as well. All of the symptoms people are experiencing…bloating, stomach pains and diarrhea are what I experience when I eat gluten. Atkins does have some bars which are labeled “Gluten Free” and they do not contain maltitol.

  • Kenneth

    These artificial sweeteners create a significant reaction with me in the form of excessive fatigue, nausea and dehydration.

  • Rose K.

    Maltitol is used in Sugar free jelly bellys! I was miserable for 2 weekends in a row. I didn’t realize what was causing my diarrhea Until I read the label and the warning. How is it that this can be allowed to be used in products. Also, About a year ago, I purchased 6 bottles of sugar free honey tasting syrup at a great price. I am down to the last bottle and am trashing it. I had some last night mixed in yogurt and was gassy all night and today was worse.

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