A humectants is a kind of substance that helps in retaining moisture. Humectants are often used in food and cosmetic products. The substances of which humectants are part of are called hygroscopic. What this means is that it is able to absorb the water that is within its environment. There are humectant additives that have a positive effect when it is consumed. There are also some humectants, usually found in some foods, that has a less than beneficial effect. In fact, it can cause abdominal distress, and thus should be avoided.
One of the most commont humectants used in food products is sorbitol. This substance is a sugar alcohol that is produced from sugar. Sorbitol is employed in dietetic food or sugarless food products. It has lower calories compared to sugar, which makes it ideal for people who are on a diet or watching their weight. But sorbitol should still be used sparingly; consuming doses larger than 1.5 ounces will give a laxative effect and can induce diarrhea.
Another humectants is polydextrose, which is also another product used as a sugar substitute. Polydextrose is found not only in “sugar-free” foods but also in other products like salad dressings. Polydextrose is quite versatile in that not only can it be used as a sugar substitute, it can also be used as a fat or starch replacement. Like sorbitol, polydextrose also has a laxative effect when consumed excessively.
Glycerol is another humectants that is usually prescribed by doctors to treat constipation. Glycerol also has a use outside of medicine. In fact, its most important use is in the production of biodiesel.