Sorbitol vs. Xylitol

What's the Difference?

Sorbitol and Xylitol are both sugar alcohols commonly used as sugar substitutes in various food products. However, they differ in terms of their taste, sweetness level, and potential health benefits. Sorbitol has a slightly sweet taste and is about 60% as sweet as regular sugar. It is often used in sugar-free candies and chewing gums. On the other hand, Xylitol has a similar taste and sweetness level to sugar, making it a popular choice for baking and sweetening beverages. Additionally, Xylitol has been found to have dental benefits, as it can help prevent tooth decay by reducing the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth. Overall, while both Sorbitol and Xylitol can be used as sugar substitutes, Xylitol offers a closer taste to sugar and potential dental health advantages.


SweetnessLess sweet than sugarAs sweet as sugar
Caloric Content2.6 calories per gram2.4 calories per gram
Dental BenefitsReduces risk of tooth decayReduces risk of tooth decay
MetabolismMetabolized slowlyMetabolized slowly
GI (Glycemic Index)913

Further Detail


Sorbitol and xylitol are two popular sugar substitutes that are widely used in various food products, oral care products, and pharmaceuticals. While both are classified as sugar alcohols, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics of sorbitol and xylitol, exploring their similarities and differences, as well as their applications and potential health benefits.

Chemical Structure and Sweetness

Sorbitol, also known as glucitol, is a sugar alcohol derived from glucose. It has a chemical formula of C6H14O6 and is naturally found in fruits like apples, pears, and peaches. Sorbitol is approximately 60% as sweet as sucrose (table sugar) and has a cooling effect when consumed.

Xylitol, on the other hand, is a sugar alcohol derived from xylose, a sugar found in various fruits and vegetables. Its chemical formula is C5H12O5. Xylitol is considered to be equally as sweet as sucrose, making it a popular sugar substitute in many products. Unlike sorbitol, xylitol does not have a cooling effect when consumed.

Digestibility and Caloric Content

One of the key differences between sorbitol and xylitol lies in their digestibility and caloric content. Sorbitol is partially digested by the body, but it is absorbed slowly in the small intestine. As a result, it has a relatively low glycemic index and provides fewer calories compared to sucrose. However, excessive consumption of sorbitol can have a laxative effect, leading to gastrointestinal discomfort.

Xylitol, on the other hand, is not fully digested by the body. It is absorbed slowly and metabolized independently of insulin, making it suitable for individuals with diabetes. Xylitol has a low glycemic index and provides fewer calories compared to sucrose. Moreover, it has been found to have dental benefits, which we will explore in more detail later in this article.


Sorbitol and xylitol find applications in a wide range of products due to their sweetening properties and other unique characteristics.

Sorbitol is commonly used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free candies, chewing gums, and baked goods. It acts as a humectant, helping to retain moisture and improve the texture of food products. Sorbitol is also used in pharmaceutical formulations as a sweetener and to enhance the palatability of liquid medications.

Xylitol, on the other hand, is widely used in oral care products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria responsible for tooth decay. Xylitol's ability to prevent cavities makes it a valuable ingredient in dental hygiene products.

Health Benefits

Both sorbitol and xylitol offer certain health benefits, although they differ in their specific advantages.

Sorbitol, due to its slow absorption and low glycemic index, can be a suitable sugar substitute for individuals with diabetes. It provides fewer calories and has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. However, it is important to consume sorbitol in moderation to avoid potential digestive issues.

Xylitol, in addition to its dental benefits, has been associated with various health advantages. It has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels, making it a safe option for diabetics. Xylitol has also been shown to have prebiotic properties, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Furthermore, studies suggest that xylitol may help reduce the risk of ear infections in children.

Potential Side Effects

While sorbitol and xylitol are generally considered safe for consumption, excessive intake can lead to certain side effects.

Consuming large amounts of sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be particularly sensitive to sorbitol and should exercise caution when consuming products containing this sugar alcohol.

Xylitol, when consumed in excessive quantities, can also cause digestive issues such as bloating and diarrhea. Additionally, some individuals may experience a laxative effect from xylitol, especially when first introducing it into their diet. It is important to gradually increase xylitol consumption to allow the body to adjust.


In conclusion, sorbitol and xylitol are two sugar alcohols that offer distinct attributes and applications. While sorbitol is less sweet and has a cooling effect, xylitol matches the sweetness of sucrose without the cooling sensation. Sorbitol is partially digested, has a low glycemic index, and provides fewer calories, while xylitol is not fully digested, has a low glycemic index, and offers dental benefits. Both sugar alcohols have their place in various food and oral care products, but it is important to consume them in moderation to avoid potential side effects. As with any dietary decision, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or nutritionist to determine the best choice for your specific needs and health conditions.

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