The Wonder Sweetener: Xylitol
It seems that nowadays we're constantly being offered a new sugar substitute.
Stevia this, Splenda that. And maybe some aspartame for good keeping. But what are we really being fed? Are all these options what they're cracked up to be, or is this just an endless circle of negative marketing that we're trapped in. We decided to find out for ourselves.
Through a career in fitness and love for food, we sought after a way to balance the two and give our bodies the best we could.
Our result: Xylitol. No, we didn't discover it or even chemically engineer it. But we did stumble across it, and we've been grateful ever since.
Part of the reason we decided to search for a new sugar substitute was the fact that we were wanting to create a new type of healthy candy. One with all of the tastiness of a regular piece of candy, but with none of the downsides.
The search took a while, but eventually through hearsay within our social circles, we decided to check out what everybody was ranting and raving about.
So what is Xylitol anyways?
Our friend's at authoritynutrition.com have a great definition collected from various reputable sources. "Xylitol is a substance that is categorized as a sugar alcohol (or polyalcohol). Sugar alcohols are like hybrids of a sugar molecule and alcohol molecule. Their structure gives them the ability to stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue.
Xylitol is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables and is therefore considered natural. Humans even produce small amounts of it via normal metabolism.It is a common ingredient in sugar free chewing gums, candies, mints, diabetes friendly foods and oral care products. Xylitol has a similar sweetness as regular sugar, but contains 40% fewer calories: Table Sugar: 4 calories per gram. Xylitol: 2.4 calories per gram.
Obviously, xylitol is a refined sweetener, so it doesn’t contain any vitamins, minerals or protein. In that sense, it is “empty” calories.
Xylitol can be processed from trees like birch, but it can also be made with an industrial process that transforms a plant fiber called xylan into xylitol.
Even though sugar alcohols are technically carbohydrates, most of them do not raise blood sugar levels and therefore don’t count as “net” carbs, making them popular sweeteners in low-carb products.
One of the negative effects of added sugar (and high fructose corn syrup), is that it can spike blood sugar and insulin levels.
Due to the high amount of fructose, it can also lead to insulin resistance and all sorts of metabolic problems when consumed in excess (more details in this article).
Well… xylitol contains zero fructose and has negligible effects on blood sugar and insulin.
Therefore, none of the harmful effects of sugar apply to xylitol.
The glycemic index (a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar) is only 7, compared to regular sugar, which has a glycemic index of 60-70.
It can also be considered a weight loss friendly sweetener, since it contains 40% fewer calories than sugar.
For people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity or other metabolic problems, xylitol is an excellent alternative to sugar.
Although this has yet to be studied in humans, rat studies have shown that xylitol can improve symptoms of diabetes, reduce belly fat and even prevent weight gain on a fattening diet.
This is because numerous studies show that xylitol has powerful benefits for dental health and prevention of tooth decay.
One of the leading risk factors for tooth decay is a type of oral bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. This is the bacteria mostly responsible for plaque.
Although having some plaque on the teeth is normal, when it goes out of hand the immune system starts attacking the bacteria in it. This can lead to inflammatory gum diseases like gingivitis.
These oral bacteria feed on glucose from food, but they can not use xylitol. Replacing sugar with xylitol therefore reduces the available fuel for the harmful bacteria.
But the effects of xylitol go beyond that… even though the bad bacteria can not use xylitol for fuel, they still ingest it.
When the bacteria are full of xylitol, they are unable to take up glucose, so essentially their energy producing pathway is “clogged” and they end up dying.
In other words, when you chew gum with xylitol (or use it as a sweetener), the sugar metabolism in the bacteria is blocked and they literally starve to death.
In one study, using xylitol-sweetened chewing gum reduced levels of the bad bacteria by 27-75%, while it had no effect on the friendly bacteria.
Xylitol also has other dental benefits (12):
Increases absorption of calcium in the digestive system, which is good for your teeth and may also protect against osteoporosis.
Increases production of saliva. Saliva contains calcium and phosphate, which get picked up by the teeth and aid in remineralization.
Reduces the acidity of saliva, which helps to fight acid-driven degradation of tooth enamel.
Numerous studies show that xylitol, either by replacing sugar or adding it on top of the diet, can reduce cavities and tooth decay by as much as 30-85%
Because inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases, it makes sense that reducing plaque and gum inflammation could have benefits for the rest of your body as well."
After our research, we decided to try it for ourselves.
About a few months into our candy making process, we came into a treat that not only tasted good, but didn't give us the sugar crashes we were so accustomed to. Xylitol's flavor is virtually the same as you would find in any other sugar substitute, and the difference is barely noticeable.
Although Xylitol has stood the test of time for us, we still believe that it's not a 100% substitute for a healthy diet and exercise regimen, nor is it intended to cure or treat any diseases (at least that we're aware of)
So next time you're at the store (hopefully our store), maybe think about giving this new "wonder sweetener" a try. It could make the world of difference.
Thanks for reading! - Team Vitalize