Recent news has emerged claiming that sugar companies over 50 years ago paid off individuals conducting heart disease studies to shift the blame to fat and here we are a half of a century later, still convinced that low fat diets are the way to go. Luckily new studies have been conducted absolving fat of any negative health effects when consumed in moderation. And Americans are listening, raising the levels of unsaturated fats in their diets while limiting the sweet stuff.
But we can’t deny that no amount of butter and olive oil can match the deliciousness of chocolate or grandma’s cookies. In response to this realization of the dangers of sugar, companies have opted for sugar free versions of their snacks and drinks. Like always, anything new that seems to be too good to be true always starts controversy. Zero calorie soda with sweetener? There’s no way that can be good for you, surely?
Through all the negative attention that aspartame, sucralose, sorbitol, mannitol, and others receive, very few natural sweeteners have managed to keep their slate clean. One of these such sweeteners is a sugar alcohol known as xylitol, which is not only as sweet as sugar, but also has many health benefits ranging from dental health to weight loss to even helping diabetics. So read on and learn more about this fantastic new sugar substitute!
The Benefits of Xylitol
Known as a sugar alcohol, or polyalcohol, xylitol isn’t anything like the alcohol we drink to get inebriated. The structure of the polyalcohol, which is a sugar molecule combined with an alcohol molecule, can mimic the sweetness of sugar and stimulate said taste receptors on the tongue. Xylitol can be found in fruits, vegetables and even in our body naturally, but the main source of xylitol we put into products comes from the birch tree.
So how is this sugar substitute better than all the rest? Compared to sugar, xylitol has only 2.4 calories per gram compared to 4 in table sugar. The glycemic index of xylitol is very low at only 12 with regular sugar being around 65, making it a great choice for diabetics who need to control their blood sugar levels daily. But so far none of these statistics are too impressive, considering there are some artificial sweeteners with zero calories per gram and no GI impact at all. That’s where the cool effects of xylitol come in.
In addition to being very low GI and not as calorie dense as sugar, xylitol can improve your mouth health, preventing cavities and stopping tooth decay. A type of oral bacteria known as streptococcus is the main reason why we get plaque and cavities. This oral bacteria feeds on glucose, and replacing sugar that gets broken down into glucose in the mouth with a sugar alternative like xylitol will give them nothing to thrive on. But xylitol is unique in that it is still taken for fuel by the bacteria. But since the bacteria can’t use the xylitol, their energy production pathways are clogged and the bacteria eventually starves to death. Cool right? This is why you might be noticing xylitol on your toothpaste and sugar free gum ingredients list. In fact, one study showed individuals who used a xylitol sweetened gum had a reduction of bad bacteria by 27-75% as well as no loss of good bacteria.
Other benefits linked to xylitol haven’t been proven, but still appear here and there. Some studies on rats have seen an increased production of collagen, the protein used in connective tissue and skin production in your body. What this might mean for humans is a type of rejuvenation effect on the skin, helping us look younger and keeping our skin clearer. Other studies done on animals have found a link between the use of xylitol and reducing the severity of ear infections as well as candida Albanians, a type of yeast infection. Of course animal studies have very little carryover to humans, but there is nothing wrong with keeping an open mind.
It Can’t All Be Good News…
There is one downside to xylitol, pertaining to man’s best friends. Xylitol is extremely toxic for dogs of all sizes. Unlike people who don’t produce much insulin when ingesting this sugar alcohol, dogs appear to do the exact opposite. When they ingest xylitol their pancreas mistakes it for glucose, and produces large amounts of insulin. In humans this is called hypoglycemia, and in dogs this can be fatal. It only takes 100g of xylitol per kg of a dogs bodyweight to cause an adverse effect. This means it only takes 5g of xylitol to possibly kill a 50kg dog, and only 1g to kill a 10kg dog.
Most sticks of xylitol gum contain more than a gram of the stuff, meaning it won’t take much at all. If you own a dog and use xylitol be sure to keep it out of your pets reach, and if you think they might have ingested any amount of xylitol take them to a vet immediately. In humans this is a different story, we can safely consume close to 100 grams of this stuff and be fine, with minimal negatives ranging from gas to a laxative effect.
Take Home Message
Overall, sugar alternatives are a good thing, if you know how to eat right and control your diet they won’t cause you to get fat like so many claim. No solid evidence on humans have shown them to cause cancer or tumors, and they definitely won’t give your children birth defects. The truth is we will never know the exact and complete ramifications of artificial or derived ingredients. But that also goes for the makeup women wear, the toothpaste we use and the tap water we drink.
When it comes down to it, if something isn’t inherently dangerous or toxic, try it! If your body reacts positively then keep using it, if not then try some something else, simple as that. Sugar alternatives are no exception, some will get gas and bloating from a single serving, while others can tolerate a kilogram of it. In this writers opinion, the benefits of xylitol far out way the negatives and if you usually tolerate sugar alcohols well I encourage its daily use in place of sugar. Just remember, it’s not calorie free like some artificial sweeteners, so you still need to keep track of how much you use!