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What is sorbitol? And how much can eat?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the complexities of managing your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) through the low FODMAP diet?

If so, you’re not alone. In this blog post, we’ll unravel the intricacies of sorbitol, a high FODMAP category that often catches people off guard. As your dedicated IBS nutritionist, my aim is to empower you with the knowledge to navigate the reintroduction phase successfully, providing clarity on what you can eat and how to manage your symptoms effectively.

Foods high in sorbitol. Image of avocado, blackberry, white cabbage, lychee, sweetcorn and peach.

Understanding Sorbitol

Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol found naturally in certain foods, might not be on your radar as a potential trigger.

Yet, high sorbitol foods include common foods like apricots, avocados, blackberries, white cabbage, peach, sweet corn. And can even lurk as an additive (E 420) in processed foods like cakes and cough syrups.

So you may be freely eating these and not realising their effect on your digestion.

How Sorbitol Impacts Digestion

Let’s demystify sorbitol. Acting as a natural laxative in higher doses, sorbitol draws water into the gut. This can lead to increased stool volume, diarrhoea, bloating, and gas.

For those with IBS, heightened sensitivity to this process can intensify symptoms, causing discomfort and pain.

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Your Sorbitol Reintroduction Strategy

Once you’ve established a baseline on the low FODMAP diet, the key is a strategic reintroduction process. All the FODMAPs should be tackled separately.

FODMAP reintroduction plan

In order to bring back in any of the FODMAPs your basic process is

  • Select the food from the FODMAP group
  • Trial a small amount on Day 1, increase slightly on Day 2, then increase further on Day 3

For more information on reintroducing FODMAPs listen to my podcast – Episode 18.

If a high sorbitol food triggers a reaction (like avocados), you’ll need to

  1. firstly, allow time for recovery so you get back to that baseline again with a happier digestion. 
  2. then retest with a different sorbitol food from the list.
  3. OR move onto the next FODMAP group and revisit sorbitol later in the challenge process.

This targeted approach helps pinpoint specific triggers within the sorbitol category. A reaction to one sorbitol food won’t necessarily mean all of them are out. This is because other compounds in foods can also affect your digestion. 

Understanding Portion Sizes

Managing sorbitol intake effectively starts with being mindful of portion sizes.

Let’s break down specific sorbitol levels in common foods. This data is taken from the Monash University FODMAP app as of November 2023. Foods turn to moderate or high FODMAP at these levels:

  • Apricot – 25g
  • Avocado – 45g
  • Blackberries – 7g (1 berry)
  • Cabbage (white) – 100g
  • Peaches – 30g
  • Sweetcorn – 63g
  • Also the additive E-420 (in sweets, packaged cakes, cough syrups, chocolates).
Foods high in sorbitol. Image of avocado, blackberry, white cabbage, lychee, sweetcorn and peach.

Beware of FODMAP Stacking

Don’t fall into the FODMAP stacking trap. Consuming multiple low to moderate sorbitol portions in a single meal can lead to bloating or gas. Little portions of Sorbitol can add to up a higher FODMAP meal. 

Read more about troubleshooting the low FODMAP diet

Stay aware of FODMAP stacking to ensure you remain within safe limits for each meal.  And if you do get a reaction, just take a little break, reset and try again. 

Moving Forward

Remember, reacting to sorbitol doesn’t mean omitting these foods forever.

I suggest all my Gut Reset client start incorporating small portions of low FODMAP foods, you can reintroduce variety into your diet. With sorbitol this could look like 1/4 avocado with a salad, or half a peach now and again. 

If you got a reaction during the reintroduction

Experiment with sorbitol challenges over time. Perhaps you will be ok eating these foods on alternate days. Or try again after a few months as your tolerance may change over time.

Closing Remarks

This journey to understand your body’s responses is ongoing, and With the right guidance, you can regain control over your IBS.

I’m here to support you every step of the way. Let’s work together to make your diet more varied and enjoyable while managing your IBS symptoms effectively.

If you want help figuring out your IBS triggers, start your Gut Reset with me over 3 months to find a diet that works for you. Just set up a free call to discuss what you need some help with. Email info@goodnessme-nutrition.com

Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritional Therapist.

I help people with IBS and SIBO get control of unpredictable gut symptoms to find long term relief from painful and embarrassing IBS without restrictive dieting.

I can help you to:

  • understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
  • eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
  • develop better digestion and more energy

Find more about my 3 month 1:1 Gut Reset programme

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