How Protein Bars Cause Stomach Aches And Bloating

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A woman holding her aching stomach.

The sugar alcohols and sucralose (Splenda) can cause stomach aches and bloating.

Have you put 2 and 2 together yet? If you eat a protein bar, do you get a stomach ache

The other day, my daughter-in-law figured this out the hard way. She has a very good diet and she works out regularly, but her stomach kept bothering her, and she was very puzzled …. until she figured out what was causing it.

“What am I doing wrong?” she wondered. After watching this fitness video, it became clear that the sugar alcohols were tearing her stomach up. She never dreamed that her healthy protein bar was loaded with at least 4 different forms of the isolated sugar alcohols.

So, hidden in your healthy food choices may be alternative sweeteners causing stomach cramping, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and other intestinal problems. And, this particular protein bar was not labeled sugar-free.

The Sugar Alcohols

The jacket cover for Dr. Hull's Splenda book.

Learn about the sugar alcohols in my book, Splenda: Is It Safe Or Not?

In my book Splenda®: Is It Safe Or Not?, you can read all about the sugar alcohols. I call these sugars grey area sweeteners because they are supposedly natural, but are highly processed after they are removed from their natural sources. This makes them very potent; and hence, they can cause IBS and stomach problems.

The grey area sweeteners include:

  1. Fructose;
  2. Fruit Juice Concentrates;
  3. Sugar alcohols;
  4. Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates (HSH).

The healthy protein bar that my daughter-in-law was eating contained all – ALL – of the above grey area sweeteners in just one little bar.

Get ready for stomach cramping.

A strawberry

If you want something sweet, eat the natural sugars in fresh foods.


Fructose becomes a simple sugar by refining corn syrup or extracting beet sugar from beets. Because it breaks down more slowly in the body than sucrose (table sugar), it has a somewhat lesser effect on blood-sugar levels, but it does not provide any nutritional benefits.

Also known as levulose and fruit sugar, fructose is the sweetest out of all the simple sugars.

Fruits naturally contain between 1% and 7% fructose, although some fruits have much higher amounts. Fructose makes up about 40% of the dry weight of honey.

Fructose is also available in crystalline form, but its sweetness rapidly declines when it’s dissolved in water. Some people react badly to fructose, so it is not a recommended option for those who monitor their sugar intake.

Or if you don’t want stomach aches.

In fact, I do not recommend fructose as an acceptable form of sugar for anyone despite its acceptance in many nutritional circles. The reasons for this are many:

  1. Nearly all simple sugars, including fructose, metabolize more rapidly than sugar, which disrupts insulin and blood sugar levels;
  2. Fructose contributes to most chronic illness;
  3. One of the primary ways that people ingest fructose is in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is used to sweeten just about everything from soda to canned fruits to chewing gum. HFCS contains similar amounts of both fructose and glucose, and sucrose (table sugar) is a larger sugar molecule that is metabolized in the intestine into both glucose and fructose.

The digestive and absorptive processes for glucose and fructose are different. Unlike glucose, which the body uses for energy, fructose supplies a relatively unregulated source of fuel that the liver converts to fat and cholesterol.

Fructose converts to fat more than any other sugar. Think about that.

So, this is one type of sweetener that I do not recommend. Note: this does NOT apply as strictly to the fructose in whole fruits. Eating balanced amounts of natural fruits provides “unadulterated” fructose that’s found in manufactured forms of fructose. Caution is advised for people with diabetes or obesity, however.

Fruit Juice Concentrate (The only one I recommend.)

This sweetener undergoes little processing, so this is a better form of natural sweetener. Most people don’t think about sweetening with fruit concentrates; it can be used to sweeten more products than you’d think, such as cookies, candy, cereal, sodas, and protein bars.

Fruit juice concentrate is usually made from a concentrate of pineapple, pear, and peach or clarified grape juice. They can be used much more safely than artificial sweeteners when sweetening gelatin, unsweetened powdered drinks, and fruit smoothies.

Most fruit juice concentrates are frozen, so keep in the freezer until ready for use.

Sugar Alcohols

97620402 - sweetener tablet and sugar. text diet wooden letters. food.

The sugar alcohols are not as healthy as they want you to believe.

I am not a fan of sugar alcohols extracted from their natural sources. Sugar alcohols are actually made from sugar. They are called sugar alcohols because part of their structure chemically resembles sugar and part is similar to alcohol.

To complicate matters more, these sweeteners are neither sugars nor alcohols—they are best described as a sugar byproduct refined by nature, not by man.

Sugar alcohols fall into this “grey area” because they are actually carbohydrates (starches) more than they are sugars. They are typically used cup-for-cup in the same amount as refined sugar, but they each vary in sweetness, ranging from half as sweet to as sweet as sugar.

Sugar alcohols blend well with other sugars, so they are commonly added to products such as gums, candies and mints, toothpaste and mouthwash.

Please keep in mind, these “grey area” sugar alcohols can give people gastric distress, especially if used in excess.

Included in this group are:

  1. Erythritol
  2. Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates
  3. Isomalt
  4. Lactitol
  5. Maltitol
  6. Mannitol
  7. Sorbitol
  8. Xylitol

Sugar alcohols are used in a wide range of low-calorie, low-fat and sugar-free foods from baked goods to frozen dairy and desserts since they provide bulk without all the calories of sugar. Sugar alcohols do not commonly promote tooth decay, so are used in toothpastes, mouthwashes, breath mints and pharmaceuticals such as cough syrups, cough drops and throat lozenges.

Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates (HSH)

HSH is a mixture of sorbitol, maltitol and hydrogenated oligosaccharides. Depending on the type of HSH, the maltitol and sorbitol content can vary, and the sweetness of HSH swings from 25% to 50% of sucrose. HSH sweeteners are used in a wide variety of candies, gums, mints, and protein bars.

Also known as maltitol syrup and hydrogenated glucose syrup, HSH can be a strong cause of stomach problems.


Xylitol is one of the most popular sugar alcohols because it:

  • does not require insulin to metabolize in the body;
  • does not promote tooth decay, and helps prevent plaque and cavities;
  • has the same sweetness, bulk and caloric value as sucrose (table sugar);

In the long term, you are better off using NOTHING – no added sugars. As with most sugar alcohols, people with hypoglycemia, Candida or diabetes may react negatively to Xylitol.

I have observed that children with ADHD react in the same fashion to Xylitol as they do to aspartame or high doses of refined sugar. Xylitol passes through the blood-brain barrier, and I have observed that after using Xylitol, hypersensitive children become more active shortly after use.

So, avoid gum with the sugar alcohols.

Protein Bars, Processed Foods, And, And, And

Hidden in your healthy food choices may be alternative sweeteners causing stomach cramping, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and other intestinal problems.

Here are the sweeteners that were in my daughter-in-law’s healthy protein bar:

  1. Maltitol syrup [Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates (HSH)]
  2. Maltitol
  3. Sorbitol
  4. Fructose (in the ingredient list twice)
  5. Sucralose
  6. Sugar

The packaging was labeled with 2g sugar. But, it DID NOT say sugar-free. It’s not worth the pain.

Remember to read your labels!


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Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. The FDA may not have evaluated some of the statements.  This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding supplements or making any changes to your dietary program.

Before taking vitamins, consult your doctor; pre-existing medical conditions or medications you are taking can affect how your body responds to multivitamins.

About Janet Hull PhD, CN

Janet Starr Hull, PhD, CN has been working with clients in the holistic health field since 1995. Using natural medicine to cure herself from a diagnosis of Graves’ disease caused by aspartame, Dr. Hull began researching the toxic causes of disease. Today, she is one of the world’s leading experts in environmental toxicology and holistic health and nutrition. Dr. Hull is the first researcher to publicly expose the dangers of aspartame. Connect with Dr. Hull on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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