Xylitol is becoming more and more popular in products, and it is being used as an alternative to sugar. But what exactly is it, how do you use it, and is it safe?
Xylitol is a carbohydrate alcohol (hence the –ol at the end of the name) that is found naturally in some fruits, like berries, and vegetables. Trees, like eucalyptus and birch, are used to obtain wood sugar, called xylose, and then the xylose is converted into xylitol by yeast. Xylitol can also be derived from cornhusks. Xylitol is metabolized differently then sugar and does not have such a strong effect on blood sugar levels, making it popular as a sugar substitute for diabetics. It is also a low-calorie option. It also does not seem to have the same effect on dental decay that sugar does and is now becoming more popular as a chewing gum. In fact, some clinical tests are showing that xylitol can help oral hygiene; xylitol is not a food source for the acid-forming bacteria in our mouths.
Xylitol has a similar sweetness to sugar and can be used cup for cup in recipes.
Xylitol has not undergone extensive research and so it should be used only in moderation. Remember that too much of anything is not good for our bodies. Also, be cautious because some sugar alcohols can ferment in the lower gut, leading to an upset stomach. In high doses it may have a laxative effect. So listen to your body. And remember, sugar alcohols like xylitol still have calories. The FDA has approved the use of xylitol, but holistic nutritionists recommend it only be used in moderation.
NOTE: As I was researching xylitol I came across information about pets and xylitol. Apparently xylitol is toxic for dogs, so be careful if using it in baking that might be given to your pet. And ask your vet before you plan to give any natural product to your animals.
Haas, E. Staying Healthy With Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. 2006.