Maltitol: A Sweetener and a Laxative in One!

One of the curious recent developments in the Atkins diet craze is the overwhelming abundance of low-carb and no-carb sweets and pastries at supermarkets. lowcarb.jpgWhen I last did the diet, back in 2000, this was basically a cottage industry, with two hard-to-find brands. Now it’s a full-blown aisle in the supermarket. Just about every candy manufacturer has replicated their product in sugar-free form; all the bread makers have concocted low-carb loaves; and there are umpteen mixes and powders to make your own Atkins approved baked goods at home.

All of this perfectly logical. Atkins is a bitch of a diet to get the hang of, and given its rising popularity, naturally there are plenty of people wanting to join the craze but not wanting to abandon their favorite foods. (After all, I’m one of these weak-willed types.) But if there’s one thing I just don’t get about all this, its the quick ascension of maltitol to the top of the artificial sweetener heap.

You see it in just about every product on the market: from Carbolite sour patch kids, to Russell Stover sugar-free chocolates, to Atkins chocolate chip cookie mix. But, as far as I’m concerned, matitol has got to be one of the worst inventions in chemical engineering history. Say what you will about aspartame, saccharine, Splenda, and sucralose, but none of them have the unholy side effects of maltitol. Among the many that I’ve been blessed with are abdominal cramping, massive diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and general indigestion.

You might wonder, Ted, if maltitol’s so terrible, why keep eating foods with it? Fair question. Indeed, I ignored the small-print warning�”may have a laxative effect” — again and again. But I plead the same excuse as the people at Tastykake, who tried for months to engineer maltitol-infused snacky treats (see “A Trimmer Tastykake,” from May 16 Philadelphia Inquirer). After extensive trial and error with the substance, a sugar alcohol, they finally got to the point that almost everyone in the company was doubled over in agonizing pain, and it was clear that maltitol was just too risky an ingredient. Why didn’t they abandon it earlier — like, say, after the first case of massive diarrhea. For one, everyone in the industry was using maltitol. But even more important, they top brass at Tasktykake was determined to bring something to market as quickly as possible. I too got sucked into believing the ubiquity and quick adoption of the sweetener must be a testament to its quality. In other words, I’m retarded.

Maltitol appears under the “sugar alcohol” category on nutritional labels. Anything more than a couple grams guarantees a evening of rushed trips to the bathroom.

Thank God there’s finally a group out there to stop the spread of this nasty sugar substitute: From the website: “The Truth about Maltitol. You’ll learn the pros and cons of the two leading versions, as well as have a good laugh when you ‘Race to the Toilet’ in our special game.”

Update: Apparently the folks has gone rogue. Though the website is no longer up and running, there are still plenty of bloggers out there continuing the guerilla campaign to put a stop to diarrhea-inducing artificial sweetners. Check out Hand Coding, which has tackled the fuzzy math of the glycemic index, and Anders J. Svenssen, who has been writing to Jelly Belly asking for charitable donations of candy — but not the kind that gives him the shits.