Q. I just ate a bar of sugarless dark chocolate. It was low carb and gluten free, so I assumed it would be a healthy treat.

I suffered severe stomach cramping, gas and diarrhea! What happened?

A. Sugarless candy is often sweetened with maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol or xylitol. These sweeteners are called sugar alcohols although they are neither sugar nor alcohol. They have fewer calories than table sugar and were originally derived from natural sources such as sweet potatoes, pineapples, birch bark or beets.

These compounds are not absorbed well, so they attract water into the lower digestive tract. This can result in cramping and diarrhea if too much is consumed.

You are not the only one to have experienced an unpleasant result from eating a bit too much sugarless chocolate. EBM noted: “Sugarfree candies and products usually carry a warning on the label that too much (it may state the amount) can have a laxative reaction. One must read labels, even on candy and gum!

“An elderly friend called and said she was “exploding” after eating half a bag of coffee nips — sugarfree! THIS WAS OVER 10 YEARS AGO, and is old info.”

We have occasionally suggested sugarfree gum or candy to people who are troubled with constipation. It makes a great deal of sense to approach the dosing cautiously, as it may well vary from one person to another.

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  1. Bozo Shakespeare

    I drank many sugar-free Slurpees in a,short period of time. I had incredibly loose bowels. Had to skip social events as a result until everything cleared. Moral: Go easy on the mannitol! :)

  2. Jayden

    Hi i have just had some sugar free sweets and i have got a rumbling belly and diarrhea im trying to lose weight will eating sugar free sweets help

  3. Sherry

    When I was pregnant with my second child and didn’t want to gain weight, I asked Dr about sugar substitutes and he said NO. So I gave up all sugar on anything. I could never drink tea with sugar, it would taste like syrup. Grapefruit, grapenuts, everything, no sugar. Fresh fruit if I want. We eat to much sugar.

  4. Noah

    subscribing without comment

  5. JMF

    The reaction described to eating sugar free chocolate could also be a result of the milk that is normally added to chocolate. People who are milk intolerant have a similar reaction when they eat products containing dairy. Unless the label says dairy free, most dark chocolate has some milk added to it.

  6. Esma S.

    Because the prescriptions I take cause constipation, dark chocolate sweetened with alcohol sugars is a yummy way for me to normalize my lower intestinal tract!

  7. DS

    Although Stevia is the only sweetener my dr. recommends, it causes cramping and loose stools for me. I have problems also with the -tol sweeteners as well as sucralose.

  8. JBH

    My son, 8-9 years old, suffered similar physical reactions from Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches.
    We decided it was the main sweetener, Sorbitol. Stopped eating them and no more of those issues.

  9. CJC

    I was visitig a diabetic friend in AZ and someone made her a “sugar free” cake for her birthday. I had only one small piece and I experienced the same “exploding” affect most
    of the evening – it had malitol in it. It was a Pillsbury sugar free cake mix. These “sugars” should be taken off the market!

  10. candacebroughton

    I too have experienced the “laxative effect”. Not always and not always from ingesting the same artificial sweetener. Vinegar has the same effect on me sometimes. As soon as this happens I take an AD tablet as soon as possible. Just one seems to the trick.

  11. Donnie

    The sugar alcohols are now being made from corn. And may be Genetically Modifed corn, too. I have to avoid all the sugar alcohols, because I’m allergic to corn. So I stick with cane sugar, honey, maple syrup and other natural corn free sugars. I can’t eat GM beet sugar, Splenda or aspartame, either.

  12. RH

    I get this same reaction if I eat a lot of watermelon on an empty stomach. Has anyone else experienced this?

  13. Julia R.

    This happened to me over 20 years ago when my “sweet” husband gave me “non-sweetened” candy for an anniversary gift because I was trying to lose weight. I LOST THE WEIGHT…but not in the way I planned. I ate much too much of it during one day and was sorry (diarrhea) for it for the next day or two. Be careful with this. It can get back at you!

  14. JFR

    Does anyone know if Stevia causes gastro problems also?

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