If you want to reduce your sugar intake without compromising on the sweet things in life, you have probably considered trying sweeteners like erythritol or xylitol. Both are popular sugar substitutes, but is one of them better or healthier than the other?
This article dives into the nitty-gritty of what these sweeteners are, their pros and cons, how to use them, and whether or not one is better than the other. Let’s dig in!
What is erythritol?
Found naturally in foods including mushrooms and grapes, erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol commonly used to replace sugar in packaged foods.
Sugar alcohols are compounds that stimulate the sweet taste receptors within the taste buds on your tongue in the same way as sugar. However, they are not metabolized the same way as sugar so they don’t contain the same number of calories or have the same impact on blood sugar levels.
The term ‘sugar alcohol’ can be confusing, but sugar alcohols do not contain ethanol, the alcohol in wine, beer, and spirits. This means that they are safe to consume for people with liver issues or a history of alcoholism.
Erythritol contains only 0.24 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar. In addition, erythritol is about 60-80% as sweet as sugar and has no aftertaste.
Even though erythritol is sweet, this sweetener has no impact on insulin or blood sugar levels. The human body cannot metabolize erythritol, so instead, it gets absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted through our urine unchanged.
For these reasons, erythritol is used in many keto, low-carb, low-calorie, sugar-free, and diabetes-friendly foods including baked goods, light ice cream, candies, chocolates, and gum.
Benefits of using erythritol
- Diabetes-friendly: Erythritol has zero impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Even better, people with diabetes can use erythritol to benefit from lower blood glucose levels because erythritol helps to decrease the amount of sugar absorbed, along with altering glucose metabolism.
- Aids in weight loss: Due to the very low calorie content of erythritol, it can be used in place of sugar throughout your day to reduce your overall caloric intake. In this way, swapping to erythritol as your sweetener can help you shed pounds.
- Antioxidant properties: Erythritol scavenges free radicals to reduce oxidative stress throughout the body. This protects your cells and helps to prevent the development of many chronic conditions, including heart disease.
- High digestive tolerance: Normal amounts of erythritol is very well tolerated as it is not fermented by our gut microbiome, preventing the gas and bloating that comes with some other sweeteners.
Disadvantages of using erythritol
Erythritol is tolerated very well by most people and is considered safe to consume, even in larger doses.
However, some people can still experience some digestive issues with larger doses of erythritol. Staying beneath a 50-gram threshold per serving should help you avoid any tummy troubles.
How to use erythritol
Erythritol can be easily substituted for sugar in most of your favorite recipes. This sweetener both tastes and acts like sugar, although it is slightly less sweet.
You can typically use erythritol in the same volume as sugar in a 1:1 ratio. However, since it is a little less sweet, you can always add some more to taste if you want to get the same sweetness level as you would with sugar. Many people will use a 1.25-to-1 ratio of erythritol to sugar for this reason.
One thing to know is that erythritol can re-crystallize under certain conditions such as freezing. This means that erythritol may not produce similar results to sugar in frozen treats like ice cream.
What is xylitol?
Xylitol, similar to erythritol, is also a type of sugar alcohol that is found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the human body produces small amounts of xylitol during everyday metabolic processes.
As a sugar alcohol, xylitol tastes sweet, however, it contains 40% fewer calories than regular table sugar with just 2.4 calories per gram.
Xylitol has a very small impact on blood glucose levels when compared to table sugar.
In lieu of sugar, xylitol is often added to many packaged foods to reduce the sugar content or make the product sugar-free. You’ve probably come across many sugar-free candies, mints, and gum that use xylitol as the sweetening agent.
Benefits of using xylitol
- Diabetes friendly: Xylitol does not lead to spikes in blood sugar or insulin, making it a great sweetener option for people with diabetes. This sweetener has a small impact on blood sugar, with a low glycemic index score of 7. Using xylitol may even help improve glucose tolerance for those with diabetes.
- Supports weight loss efforts: Since xylitol has 40% of the calories of table sugar, replacing sugar with xylitol can be a great tool for reducing overall calorie consumption. Further, xylitol may even contribute to reduced levels of belly fat.
- Supports oral health: Xylitol is added to many oral health products, such as toothpaste and chewing gum. The tooth decay and plaque-producing bacteria in your mouth absorb xylitol, which leads to the harmful bacteria starving and dying off. Xylitol also helps reduce acidity and increase saliva in the mouth. Because of this, the consumption of xylitol is tied to reduced amounts of cavities and tooth decay.
- Can help prevent ear infections: Since the bacteria in our mouths can lead to infections in our ears, the fact that xylitol kills bad bacteria in our mouths means that xylitol can help prevent ear infections.
Some other potential benefits of xylitol found in rat studies include the possibility that it can help increase collagen production in the skin, increase bone mineral content to protect against osteoporosis, and support digestive health by increasing levels of our good gut microbiota. More research with human studies needs to be done to support these claims.
Disadvantages of using xylitol
The biggest disadvantage to using xylitol is that high levels of intake can lead to digestive discomfort and diarrhea. Since xylitol has laxative properties in high doses, keeping intake to more moderate amounts is the key to avoiding the uncomfortable side effects.
Those with digestive conditions may want to avoid xylitol as it can exacerbate symptoms.
Another disadvantage is for our furry friends. Pets should be kept away from xylitol and any products containing xylitol because it is extremely toxic to them even in extremely small doses.
How to use xylitol
The good news is that most people tolerate xylitol extremely well, and it is also possible for your body to adjust to it. To avoid any digestive discomfort, start with lower amounts of xylitol and slowly adjust upward.
The most popular ways to use xylitol include using it to sweeten drinks like coffee and tea, or substituting it for sugar in recipes.
Xylitol is typically used in the same volume as sugar due to the fact that the sweetness level and flavor are equivalent to sugar. This makes substituting xylitol for sugar in recipes quite simple since it can be used in a 1:1 ratio.
One thing to note is that yeast cannot ferment xylitol. This means that xylitol is not suitable as a replacement for sugar in yeast bread recipes.
In addition, xylitol absorbs a lot of moisture, so you may need to adjust some recipes or shorten the baking time. Xylitol also is not able to caramelize and can re-crystallize in cold temperatures.
To avoid any unintentionally ruined recipes, seek out tried and true recipes that call for xylitol.
The bottom line
Erythritol and xylitol are sugar alcohols that are often used to replace sugar and lower the caloric content in many commercial foods and recipes.
The risk of digestive issues is higher with xylitol than it is with erythritol, however, xylitol is well tolerated at low to moderate doses.
While xylitol is a better option in terms of supporting oral health, erythritol has antioxidant properties and can help prevent heart disease.
Erythritol has fewer calories than xylitol, but both have lower caloric content than sugar. This makes each sweetener an easy tool to reduce calories and boost weight loss.
Both of these sweeteners are good options for people with diabetes, but erythritol has a leg up on xylitol here. Xylitol has a small impact on blood sugar, while erythritol does not impact blood sugar levels at all.
While each of these sweeteners has its pros and cons, they are still both fantastic options to use to replace sugar in your diet. So no matter which one you prefer, you are sure to reap some health benefits.
If you are wondering about the pros and cons of other sweeteners and sugar substitutes, check out these posts as well: