Xylitol – Alternative Low-Calorie Sweetener
As we learn more about how bad that simple sugars and simple carbohydrates are for are health, it's important to look into alternative sweeteners in our quest to improve health and safeguard longevity. One particular alternative to sugar that occurs naturally in the environment is known as Xylitol.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is an alternative sweetener that is present in many of the foods that we eat, like vegetables and fruits. Xylitol can also be extracted from particular hardwoods, and is used to fortify foods that we eat. In addition to absorbing Xylitol from diet, the human body has the capacity to make a small amount of the sugar alcohol using internal physiological processes.
How Long Has Xylitol Been Used for Food?
Xylitol has been used in foods since that late 19th century. The nutrient was first described in 1891 by a German researcher. Though it was used in a limited manner in the early 20th century, World War II led to a rapid increase in production and distribution of Xylitol, beginning in Finland, as a result of sugar scarcity during wartime. At the time, the Finnish named Xylitol Koivusokeri, which literally means Birch Sugar in English. Though Xylitol can be extracted from a variety of foods and organic products, it was first collected from birch fibers.
After World War II and into the sixties, Xylitol's use as a sweetener expanded quickly into Japan, the Soviet Union, and Europe. Eventually, Xylitol made its way onto American soil, and is widely used today. Xylitol has high marks from the American Dental Association for its impact on dental health, and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a safe food product.
Where does American Xylitol Come From?
For commercial use, Xylitol generally comes from a few distinct sources, the most common of which are cornhusk, seed husks, cane pulp, and cellulose from trees.
How Do Simple Sugars Compare to Xylitol?
Table sugar and Xylitol are both potent sweeteners, but there are some major differences between the two. For example, Xylitol does not actually belong to the class of compounds known as sugar. In fact, Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Other sugar alcohols include Erythritol, Maltitol, Mannitol, and Sorbitol. Most of the common sugars have 6-carbon chains, such as Dextrose, Fructose, and Sucrose. Xylitol, on the other hand, is a 5-carbon compound.
Xylitol has some powerful benefits as compared to common table sugar. As you've probably heard in recent months and years, it is becoming increasingly clear that excess sugar consumption has a hugely negative effect upon health, and sugar-alternatives such as Xylitol can replace sugar as a sweetener. Our bodies are designed to absorb simple sugars and carbohydrates rapidly, which leads to a spike in blood sugar and can hinder proper insulin production. In fact, the body can partially absorb Xylitol without Insulin, which further suppresses the need for insulin.
How Do Xylitol and Sugar Compare with Regard to Caloric Intake?
Because of these specific differences in how the body uses and metabolizes Xylitol, an equivalent amount of Xylitol will only lead to the absorption of 60% of the calories as compared to simple sugars. Xylitol passes through most of the digestive system without being metabolized, until it reaches the large intestine, where it is partially digested.
For the same sweetness, it would take 4 calories from sugar, as compared to only 2.4 for Xylitol. In addition to the sensation of sweetness, Xylitol leads to a sensation of cooling, not entirely unlike mint, but not as potent. This sensation occurs because Xylitol is an alcohol, and reacts with chemicals in the saliva, which leads it to absorb heat.
How Can Xylitol Benefit Health and Wellness?
Because of the dietary caloric benefits of Xylitol, there has been a lot of research on the chemical, as it relates to our health. Xylitol is frequently used in sugar-free gum, and has been endorsd by the ADA because of its positive impact on dental health. Studies have shown that brushing twice per day and chewing gum containing Xylitol leads to a major reduction in the formation of cavities.
There are two known means by which Xylitol safeguards oral health. Foods containing simple sugar are bad for our teeth because they encourage the proliferation of bad bacteria which induce an overly acidic environment in the mouth, which is terrible for tooth enamel. Unlike simple sugars, Xylitol does not undergo the process of fermentation. This helps preserve the natural pH of the mouth, which is slightly above 7. The second reason why Xylitol reduces the incidence of cavities is because it encourages the release of saliva, which both preserves the enamel and disperses acids which etch into the enamel.
One drawback of Xylitol and other sugar alcohols is that it can lead to gastrointestinal issues when consumed in excess. This is because Xylitol has laxative effects, resulting from the way that it passes through the digestive system. Because we only partially break down Xylitol, it can lead to diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating. Most people that use Xylitol regularly are able to overcome these laxative effects, and it should be noted that it takes a lot of Xylitol to lead to these issues. Xylitol is quickly becoming favored over other sugar alcohols (especially sorbitol), because it is much less likely to lead to gastrointestinal distress.
Combine Xylitol with Stevia and other Sugar Alternatives to Enhance Health
If you are interested in preserving your oral health and improving your overall wellness, chewing gum with Xylitol as a sweetener is a smart choice. Xylitol is not heavily used in foods and drinks that we eat every day, but Stevia makes a fantastic alternative to table sugar in teas, drinks, and many foods. Take steps to minimize your intake of simple sugars, and focus on getting your carbohydrates from complex such as whole grain rice, whole wheat bread, and vegetables.