What is xylitol and what are sugar alcohols?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used as a sugar substitute. First, it sounds quite chemically but, in fact, it is something quite natural. Xylitol is also known as birch sugar. You can find it in the fiber of some fruits and vegetables. Even our body produces xylitol during the metabolization of carbohydrates.
Sugar alcohols and alcohol such as beer and wine are just false friends. The „alcohol“ of sugar alcohol is just the denomination of their chemical compound. Consuming sugar alcohols such as birch sugar you don’t have to be afraid of getting drunk or suffering from any negative effect linked to common alcohol. So, sugar alcohols are also suitable for children.
What’s the catch?
A highly valued benefit of consuming birch sugar is its sweetness. It is almost as sweet as table sugar. So, you don’t have to use your calculator while cooking or baking with birch sugar. It is as sweet as table sugar but it has ca. 40% fewer calories than table sugar!
Plus, it tastes quite similar to common sugar and we can use it just like sugar for cooking and baking.
Another advantage is the metabolization of birch sugar in our bodies. Most sugar alcohols cannot be fully broken down during digestion. Therefore, it has just a small effect on our blood sugar levels. That’s the reason why xylitol can be considered as low carb and suitable for diets based on caloric restriction.
What are the pros and cons of xylitol?
We can find xylitol in chewing gums quite often because there is some evidence that it is tooth-friendly. Due to its antibacterial effect, it can be considered a good food additive to prevent dental cavities. Plus, there is some evidence that birch sugar can support the remineralization of dental enamel and bones.
An adverse effect of the consumption of birch sugar is its potential to have laxative effects. Due to the fact that sugar alcohols cannot be metabolized completely by our gut, its consumption may cause flatulence and diarrhea. Similar to fiber – your body can adapt to higher regular intake easily.
Just to be on the safe side: Make sure you buy xylitol labeled as organic. This prevents you from buying inferior birch sugar extracted from cheap, genetically modified corn. Organic xylitol is often extracted from Finnish birchwood. To reduce your cravings for sweetness, you have to reduce your overall consumption of sweetness. No matter if you use table sugar or substitutes such as birch sugar or stevia.
+ Xylitol has 40% fewer calories than table sugar, affects blood sugar levels as well as insulin secretion just slightly, suitable to a low-carb diet
+ does not cause cavities, can remineralize your teeth and bones
+ You can use it in the same way you use table sugar
– can cause flatulence and diarrhea
Have you ever heard of xylitol or birch sugar? Or do you follow a low-carb diet? 🙂
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Here are the science-based studies and evidence for this blog post
Campus, G./Cagetti, M. G./Sacco, G./Solinas, G./Mastroberardino, S./Lingström, P. 2009: Six months of daily high-dose xylitol in high-risk schoolchildren: a randomized clinical trial on plaque pH and salivary mutans streptococci, in: Caries Research, Vol. 43, 2009, No. 6, pp. 455-461.
Mäkinen, K. K./Alanen, P./Isokangas, P./Isotupa, K./Söderling, E./Mäkinen, P. L/Wenhui, W./Weijian, W./Xiaochi, C./Yi, W./Boxue, Z. 2008: Thirty-nine-month xylitol chewing-gum programme in initially 8-year-old school children: a feasibility study focusing on mutans streptococci and lactobacilli, in: International Dental Journal, Vol. 58, 2008, No. 1, pp. 41-50.
Milgrom, P./Ly, K. A./Tut, O. K./Mancl, L./Roberts, M. C./Briand, K./Gancio, M. J. 2009: Xylitol pediatric topical oral syrup to prevent dental caries: a double-blind randomized clinical trial of efficacy, in: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 163, 2009, No. 7, pp. 601-607.
Sato, H./Ide, Y./Nasu, M./Numable, Y. 2011: The effects of oral xylitol administration on bone density in rat femur, in: Odontology, Vol. 99, 2011, No. 1, pp. 28-33.
Tapiainen, T./Renko, M./Kontiokari, T./Uhari, M. 2002: Xylitol Concentrations in the Saliva of Children After Chewing Xylitol Gum or Consuming a Xylitol Mixture, in: European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Vol. 21, 2002, No. 1, pp. 53-55.
Twetman, S. 2009: Consistent evidence to support the use of xylitol- and sorbitol-containing chewing gum to prevent dental caries, in: Evidence-Based Dentistry, Vol. 10, 2009, No. 1, pp. 10-11.