Digestive complaints are frequently triggered by sorbitol intolerance (sorbitol malabsorption). This intolerance disrupts the absorption of the sugar alcohol sorbitol in the small intestine, leading to the associated discomfort. For people with a sorbitol intolerance, the right diet can become a real challenge.
What is sorbitol?
Sorbitol is the sugar alcohol of fructose. Due to its sweet taste, it is often used as a substitute for sugar or for many diet products. Since sorbitol has only about half the calories of our conventional table sugar and is also good for your teeth, it is often seen as a healthier alternative. However, sorbitol has a laxative effect, meaning that products sweetened with sorbitol also have to come with an appropriate warning. However, you should be particularly careful if you suffer from a sorbitol intolerance.
In such a sorbitol intolerance, the small intestine is unable to utilise the sorbitol absorbed through food. It therefore continues into the large intestine where it is broken down by bacteria. This fermentation process releases gases that have a negative impact on digestion. This results in stomach pain, bloating, headaches, tiredness, diarrhoea etc. Given that these symptoms are initially unspecific and occur with many intolerances, a sorbitol intolerance is diagnosed with a hydrogen breath test.
Sorbitol intolerance is the rule, not the exception
In this regard, sorbitol intolerance is actually not an illness, but rather the norm. No doubt you’ll remember your parents teaching you not to eat too many cherries at once and then drink water. This can cause severe stomach ache. The reason for this is the sorbitol contained in the cherries, which can affect our digestion in large amounts. Too many cherries therefore have a laxative effect on everyone. Even a portion of 20 to 50 g can lead to unpleasant symptoms. However, anyone suffering from a sorbitol intolerance can tolerate much less. They should make sure they only consume a very small quantity of sorbitol, if at all.
Sorbitol intolerance and fructose intolerance
A fructose intolerance often goes hand in hand with a sorbitol intolerance. Given that sorbitol is very similar to fructose and both have the same transport and metabolic pathway, the intake of sorbitol puts all the more strain on the body in this case. In the case of hereditary fructose intolerance, sorbitol must be avoided altogether as the body converts sorbitol into fructose, and also in the case of fructose malabsorption, sorbitol is usually at least as dangerous as fructose.
It is assumed that an increased intake of sorbitol can even aggravate fructose intolerance. Unfortunately, this link is sometimes ignored in books and guides. Even fructose-free products are still made with sorbitol by some producers as the significance of sorbitol for fructose intolerance is ignored.
It is extremely important that people with a fructose intolerance have a sorbitol-free diet. All products from Frusano are suitable for people with intolerances as alternative products as they contain an extremely small amount of sorbitol, if any!
Sorbitol in the food industry
Sorbitol is naturally present in many fruits, including in particular pome fruits such as cherries, plums, peaches etc. and in dried fruit. However, the food industry also produces sorbitol artificially using enzymes from glucose. In addition to being a sugar substitute, sorbitol is also popular as a humectant for baked goods.
People with a sorbitol intolerance should avoid the following foods:
- Fruit: apricots, plums, peaches, cherries, dried fruit
- Vegetables: ready-made vegetable mixtures, flatulent vegetables (e.g. white cabbage, legumes)
- Low-sugar and low-calorie sweets and diet products: ice cream, sweet pastries, cakes, biscuits, chocolate
- Drinks: sugar-free light drinks, juice from fruits containing sorbitol
- Certain medications
- Ready-made baked goods: e. g. also bread, as sorbitol is often used as a humectant. Sorbitol is often called “E 420” here in the list of ingredients.
- Bread sold over the counter at the bakery doesn’t have to list sorbitol as an ingredient! You have to ask.
- Most chewing gums - even gums that advertise a different sweetener like xylitol. You can buy pure xylitol chewing gum from us in the shop.
Tips for dealing with a sorbitol intolerance
As there is no cure for a sorbitol intolerance, those affected have no choice but to adapt their lifestyles to the intolerance. For people who also suffer from a fructose intolerance, this means avoiding sorbitol altogether. Even those who do not have a fructose intolerance should cut sorbitol out of their diets completely for a few weeks so that their digestive tract can recover.
After that, they can slowly increase their intake of sorbitol again. How much sorbitol can be tolerated with a sorbitol intolerance varies from person to person. There are a few things that you can do in daily life to manage your sorbitol intolerance.
For example, prepare home-cooked meals instead of eating processed foods and pre-packaged baked goods. This allows you to keep control of the ingredients in your meals. If you do opt for a ready meal, check the ingredients carefully. Artificially produced sorbitol is a food additive and has the number E420. To relieve your digestive tract elsewhere, avoid flatulent foods such as onions, old cheese or yeast-based products. When you finally start to slowly test how much sorbitol you can tolerate again, be careful not to eat foods containing sorbitol on an empty stomach, as this puts even more strain on the intestines.
A diet low in sorbitol can help limit the negative effects of sorbitol intolerance. People with a sorbitol intolerance can usually still tolerate the following foods:
- Fruit: citrus fruits, watermelon, kiwi, grapefruit, raspberries, rhubarb, blackberries, sea buckthorn
- Vegetables: aubergine, spinach, radish, broccoli, peas, fennel, kale, olives, asparagus
- Drinks: water, tea, coffee
- Sweets: nut spreads, jams/jellies made from sorbitol-free fruit, chocolates without fillings
- Dairy products: milk, cream, butter milk, natural yoghurt, curd, cheese
- Wheat, rice, pasta
- Unprocessed meat and fish products
All products from Frusano are suitable for people with intolerances as they contain an extremely small amount of sorbitol, if any!
Please see also: