Xylitol is one of the many sugar alcohol sweeteners used as a sugar substitute. However, all of these sugar alcohols have varying properties and uses. It is about as sweet as sucrose (table sugar), but with only about 2/3 of the calories present in sucrose, giving it about 9.6 calories per teaspoon. Most sugar substitutes are virtually calorie-free, but not all. Xylitol is not that same thing as an artificial sweetener because it is all natural, coming directly from its fruit or vegetable source.

Sources of Xylitol

Xylitol is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, such as berries, oats, corn husks, corn fiber, raspberries, plums, and mushrooms; it is extracted from these sources for its uses. It is produced by the hydrogenation of xylose, which converts the sugar into an alcohol.

Properties of Xylitol
Pure xylitol is a pure crystalline substance, closely resembling table sugar. Perhaps the most recognized thing about xylitol is that is it safe for consumption by diabetics because it doesn’t have an effect on insulin levels. Xylitol has a very low glycemic index and a minimal effect on blood sugar. Also, xylitol doesn’t cause dental caries, or cavities. It is known as a “tooth friendly” sweetener. Because of its chemical make-up, it is a lot better for the teeth than other sweeteners, out of both sugar and sugar alcohols. Xylitol is known to inhibit the bacteria that often cause tooth decay, as well.

Uses of Xylitol

Xylitol is used in many places throughout the world.

Food industry
It is commonly used as a sweetener in chewing gum and cough drops.

Oral hygiene products
If you have ever bought and consumed sugar-free gum, you have consumed xylitol. It is also used in many oral hygiene products, like toothpaste, fluoride tablets, and mouthwashes.

Pharmaceutical industry
It is also used in the pharmaceutical industry in various products. One such product is a nasal spray that is used for influenza.

Osteoporosis treatment
Dietary xylitol has been shown to be able to prevent the weakening of bones and can improve bone density; therefore, it can treat and prevent osteoporosis.

Prevention of ear infections
There has been some research into the benefit of xylitol preventing ear infections. Xylitol, as mentioned previously, can prevent the growth of some species of bacteria.

Xylitol has shown in some studies to increase the activity of neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cell involved in fighting bacteria.

Pregnant and nursing women
Xylitol is safe for pregnant women and for women who are breastfeeding. Studies show that the regular consumption of xylitol in these women can reduce the likelihood of transmitting a type of streptococcus bacteria, which, passed from mother to child, are responsible for tooth decay in infant up to the age of 2.

Side Effects of Consuming Xylitol

The most common side effect of sugar alcohols is the problem it can cause in the gastrointestinal tract, like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Although the effects are only temporary, they can be discomforting. The laxation threshold, which is the amount that can be consumed before gastrointestinal upset occurs, can be raised with regular consumption. Basically, you can train your body to be able to handle more of the sweetener. Xylitol has a moderate laxation threshold for most people. Other than that, xylitol is assumed to be safe, with no levels of toxicity yet known.

Don’t let your dog get a hold of xylitol because it can cause abnormally low blood sugar levels, which can be life-threatening. Low blood sugar has symptoms of poor coordination, depression, collapse, and seizure within an hour of consumption. It may also cause some liver damage in dogs.

Last updated on Jan 7th, 2011 and filed under Healthy Eating. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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