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Sorbitol and Kids: Is this a Potentially Dangerous Mix?



In our 21st century society, human beings are becoming increasingly concerned with health and well-being. As Western nations grapple with rising obesity rates and increasingly unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles, instead of society is trying to adopt healthier approaches to living. Some of our attempts at a healthier lifestyle can backfire on us, increasing our risk of illness and other detrimental side effects.

One of the most significant focal points has been to change what is added to our foods, mainly processed foods. Products such as high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, and sugar are being replaced by other sweeteners such as Splenda and Sorbitol. Questions are now emerging though about the safety of these products that were supposed to make our foods healthier. Sorbitol, in particular, is now being questioned because of its possible adverse side effects, especially as it relates to children.

Sorbitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is found in pears, prunes, and individual berries. Sorbitol is often used instead of other sugars because it has a lesser caloric impact on our diets, and it provides a less intensely sweet flavor to foods. It is generally considered to be safe for consumption in small amounts, but questions have begun to arise about its safety in more massive amounts. Sorbitol’s impact on children is a hotly debated topic among professionals and parents alike.

For starters, Sorbitol comes with many benefits. As mentioned, Sorbitol is less caloric than real sugar, and that is one primary reason it has been used in many low-sugar processed foods. Another positive for Sorbitol is that it does not promote tooth decay as regular sugar does. When foods with regular sugar are consumed, there are bacteria in our mouths that break down the sugar into acids. These acids have a corrosive effect on tooth enamel and lead to cavities when not adequately cleared from the mouth through brushing.

Sorbitol, on the other hand, does not breakdown at the hands of oral bacteria, which means that corrosive acids are not produced and left to destroy the enamel on our teeth potentially. This is particularly helpful for children as kids are not as proficient at brushing their teeth as adults.

Generally speaking, Sorbitol has been labeled safe for consumption by several food oversight groups. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union, and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization have all determined sorbitol is safe. The FDA has labeled sorbitol to be “generally regarded as safe.”

Diabetics, children and adults alike, need to monitor their sugar intake daily. Those living with diabetes need to learn how to control their blood glucose, lipids, and weight. Sorbitol is absorbed slowly by the body, which helps to lessen the spike in blood glucose and insulin, making it easier for some to control their blood glucose and insulin levels. Because sorbitol offers two-thirds fewer calories per gram than sugar, it is slightly easier to manage weight as well. However, the full impact of sorbitol on people with diabetes can vary, and parents should consult their child’s doctor if they are consuming sorbitol regularly.

The hottest debate surrounding sorbitol’s effect on children centers on its laxative effects. While sorbitol’s slow absorption by the body can have a significant impact on the gastrointestinal system, excessive amounts of it can have a negative impact. Adverse effects include bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, cramping, and other intestinal issues.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest believes this laxative effect is dangerous for children. Their argument suggests that even small doses of sorbitol can lead to severe diarrhea due to a child’s smaller proportions and body size. Others question this belief, stating that the average adult or child’s body is capable of handling sorbitol without issue because it has been naturally occurring throughout history in certain foods.

Pay attention to how much sorbitol your children consume in a day. Consult your child’s doctor if they have diabetes or have kidney disease. Those with kidney disease are advised to avoid sorbitol because it is secreted excessively by the kidneys. It is also possible to have sorbitol allergies, making it more relevant to consult doctors before consuming foods with sorbitol.

Sorbitol’s impact on the body, especially those of children, remains unclear overall. There are signs that it can be positive for many, while it does pose a danger to some. The best approach to sorbitol is to keep yourself in the know. Be aware of what foods your children often consume that include sorbitol, and limit if possible, the amount of it squandered daily.