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Which sweeteners are low FODMAP?

Having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) complicates sweets a little, but there are still many ways to treat yourself.

Published:

November 11, 2022

Written by:

KT Heins-Nagamoto

Managing Editor

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Erin Hendriks

Board-Certified Physician

Published:

November 11, 2022

Nutrition
Nutrition

What do pancakes, coffee, and birthdays have in common? They all call for a little sugar, right? Having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) complicates sweets a little, but there are still many ways to treat yourself. 

Before we get started with sweeteners, here a few tips:

  • As with any smart eating plan, don’t overdo sugar
  • Read food labels carefully to see if sugar is sneaking into unexpected places
  • Look for sugar types with at least the same amount of glucose as fructose

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10 sweeteners you can enjoy even with IBS

Even with IBS, you have many sweeteners to choose from!

Sweet news: cane and beet sugar are solid choices

Granulated sugar, the kind you get from cane or beets, is crystallized sucrose that is equal parts fructose and glucose. While sugar isn’t healthy in high amounts, reasonable portions are generally low FODMAP. Sugar can be labeled many different ways, including:

  • Beet sugar, a common sweetener from, yes, beets
  • Brown sugar, which is granulated sugar with molasses added for a richer taste. Although molasses is high FODMAP, you can enjoy up to a tablespoon of brown sugar and still be following low FODMAP eating. Perhaps Kahlúa pecan brown sugar baked brie might tempt you?
  • Cane sugar (also called granulated sugar), the other most common sugar type, easily enjoyed in these straightforward sugar cookies with buttercream frosting
  • Castor sugar, a more finely ground sugar, showcased in this recipe for chocolate pavlova
  • Confectioners' sugar (or powdered sugar), the extremely fine, fluffy kind of sugar often used in frosting, like in these cinnamon rolls

You have other sweetener options, too

Though some of the following sweeteners are not as well-known as table sugar, they are also low FODMAP, and you may even prefer them:

  • Coconut sugar, from the coconut palm, is low FODMAP in small servings. You could try it in peanut butter cookies, for example
  • Corn syrup or glucose syrup is often very well tolerated on a low FODMAP eating plan (as long as you don’t use high fructose corn syrup, which is a completely different thing!)
  • Maple syrup, a Maine classic, just seems to make everything better, and is a great substitute for honey in many recipes. Drizzle it on your oatmeal as part of a healthy breakfast, or try it out in maple whisky fudge or maple-soy glazed tempeh (just don’t use imitation maple syrup)
  • Palm sugar, from date palms, has a rich, deep flavor, which you can explore in autumn spice cake
  • Rice malt syrup, developed from brown rice, is another low FODMAP sweetener for snacks like chocolate chia rice puff dessert

At least 14 sweeteners to avoid if you have IBS

Not every sweetener is all sweetness and light for those with IBS. To avoid bloating, constipation, diarrhea, pain, immune system problems, and other symptoms, it’s best to steer clear of high FODMAP sweeteners that contain more fructose than any other sugar type. If you see any of the following sweeteners, it’s best to skip them!

Some fruit sugars

Sadly, fructose is found in many delicious fruits, but can trigger IBS symptoms for some people. That’s why knowing what fruits to eat with IBS matters so much. (A health coach from Salvo Health could help sort out what fruits are fine, if you’d like more support.) Fruits with a high fructose content such as  apples, cherries, and grapes may need to be limited  if you have IBS.

Alcohol sugars (that end in ‘ol’)

Also steer clear of polyols, alcohol sugars that generally end in “ol” and are high FODMAP. Your small intestine may struggle to absorb them, which could lead to fermentation in your gut and to diarrhea, among other IBS symptoms and general adverse effects. Polyols are often put into gums, candy, medications, and other unexpected places, and include:

  • Maltitol, sometimes used as a sugar substitute in “sugar free” products
  • Mannitol, often found in gum and in some medications
  • Sorbitol, a sugar replacement used in some gums, mints, and jams
  • Xylitol, which is in many toothpastes
  • Isomalt (which doesn’t end in “ol,” we know, but is still a sugar alcohol)

Artificial sweeteners

Though popular, artificial sweeteners can have more downsides than benefits. It’s often best to avoid: 

Syrups

Unfortunately, many types of syrup are not FODMAP friendly, and tend to hold a lot of fructose. Here are some common culprits:

  • Agave syrup, sold in many health food stores, comes from the same plants tequila does, but unfortunately contains fructose
  • Golden syrup is a popular stand-in for maple syrup and is often used in baking, but any more than a teaspoon can be problematic
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – we know we’ve already mentioned it, but it bears repeating: it’s not your friend, even if it is used in so many processed foods. Also watch out for sneaky labeling that disguises high fructose corn syrup as fructose-glucose syrup or isoglucose 
  • Honey, while wonderful for many people, has more fructose than glucose, meaning your small intestine might struggle to deal with it
  • Molasses is an absolutely delicious, syrupy form of beet sugar, but it’s also high FODMAP 

Figure out what triggers your symptoms with help from Salvo Health

At Salvo Health, our digital healthcare platform and virtual clinic provides you with continuous text-based support and care for your chronic condition. Imagine being able to text a board-certified Physician or Behavioral Health Coach to avoid flare-ups or manage your pain. Alongside messaging-based communication, members receive a customized Care Plan that can take account of how their symptoms can be managed, no matter how many treats they eat. 

Get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health care team, including a certified gastro specialist and board-certified health coach when you join Salvo Health today.

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Written by:

KT Heins-Nagamoto

Managing Editor

References: