What's the Deal with Xylitol?

written by Jessica Tilley

xylitol, sweetener, sugar, maple syrup, honey, nutrition

There is sugar in almost every processed product that we buy. Even in the organic, “healthy” stuff, there’s still some form of it.  On average, a person in North America consumes 32g of sugar daily and it is causes so many health issues that most people are not aware of. Ingesting this large amount of sugar damages the liver, increases insulin levels (which can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, and hormonal imbalances) and can cause an imbalance of beneficial bacteria in your gut.  Besides that, sugar also negatively impacts the immune system and your body’s ability to defend itself from illness.

There are, however, much healthier substitutes that could be used instead of white sugar that won’t cause the same negative effects.  Maple syrup and honey are popular choices- however they will still raise your blood sugar and be broken down into glucose in your body like refined sugar, however they still contain other nutrients, such as minerals.   Another lesser known option is xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is derived from plants such as berries, corn and birch. It is lower in calories than sugar but delivers the same level of sweetness. It also is absorbed more gradually so it won’t spike insulin levels.   

We’ve been curious about xylitol and whether it is a safe alternative to using sugar, maple syrup and honey in sweet recipes.

Studies have shown that consuming xylitol benefits your dental health- some dentists recommend chewing gum that contains xylitol to combat tooth decay and the growth of plaque causing bacteria. There are also studies that show this sugar substitute also helps with the absorption of calcium, and reduces the acidity level of saliva in our mouths.  Xylitol is not used by the bad bacteria in your gut (they feed on glucose, which can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria).  Xylitol is very easily substituted in any baking, or really any recipe that contains sugar.

However, we do have our concerns with xylitol.  This substance is highly toxic to dogs, even the smallest amount can result in liver failure.  In humans, although it is not as common, it can cause some digestive discomfort. Sugar alcohols draw water into the gut and if it stays there for a while can start to ferment, causing gas and bloating.

 

So, what’s the conclusion?

We would stay away from xylitol if you are managing or recovering from a digestive illness or know that you have a sensitive digestive system.  If you do use xylitol, we would use it in small amounts (same rule as we apply to other sweet things).  We’d also recommend trying out stevia instead, if you need a completely glucose-free sweetener option.  

 

Resources:

Daniluk, J. (n.d.). Life After Sugar: A Guide to Alternative Sweeteners . Retrieved April 13, 2017, from https://juliedaniluk.com/food-facts/life-after-sugar-a-guide-to-alternative-sweeteners.html?highlight=WyJzd2VldGVuZXJzIl0

Gunnars , K. (2016, August 18). Xylitol: Everything You Need to Know (Literally). Retrieved April 14, 2017, from https://authoritynutrition.com/xylitol-101/

Mercola, Dr. (n.d.). What Happens in Your Body When You Eat Too Much Sugar? Retrieved April 13, 2017, from http://articles.mercola.com/sugar-side-effects.aspx