Xylitol low calorie substitute

Xylitol is a lower-calorie sugar substitute with a low glycemic index. Some research suggests that it may also improve dental health, prevent ear infections, and possess antioxidant properties.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, which is a type of carbohydrate and does not actually contain alcohol. It occurs naturally in small amounts in fibrous fruits and vegetables, trees, corncobs, and even the human body.

Manufacturers use it as a sugar substitute because its sweetness is comparable with that of table sugar but with fewer calories.

It is also a common ingredient in many products, from sugar-free chewing gum to toothpaste. People also use it as a table-top sweetener and in baking.

This article looks at the uses and potential health benefits of xylitol. It also covers its side effects, drug interactions, dosage, and alternatives.

Uses

Xylitol sweetener on wooden spoons
A low-calorie alternative to sugar.

Xylitol has a similar level of sweetness to sugar but with a fraction of the calories. It is a popular ingredient in a variety of products, including sugar-free gum and toothpaste.

Manufacturers add it to a range of foods, including:

  • sugar-free candies, such as gum, mints, and gummies
  • jams and jellies
  • honey
  • nut butter, including peanut butter
  • yogurt

It is also an ingredient in some dental care products, including:

  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • other fluoride products

Potential benefits

Xylitol has several potential health benefits, including:

Low glycemic index

It has a low glycemic index (GI). This means that consuming it does not cause spikes in blood glucose or insulin levels in the body. For this reason, xylitol is a good sugar substitute for people with diabetes.

Due to its low GI, it is also a weight loss-friendly sugar substitute.

Also, a 2015 study revealed that it had significant blood glucose-lowering effects in rats that ate high-fat diets.

Dental health

Xylitol is an ingredient in many dental hygiene products, including toothpaste and mouthwash. This is due to the fact that it is non-fermentable, which means that the bacteria in the mouth cannot convert it into the harmful acid that causes tooth decay.

The oral bacterium Streptococcus mutans is largely responsible for plaque, which is the sticky, white substance that can accumulate on the outside of a person’s teeth.

Plaque binds lactic acid against the surface of the tooth. This acid breaks down the enamel and leads to tooth decay.

While it is normal for people to have some plaque on their teeth, excess amounts can lead to tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.

A 2017 systematic review suggests that xylitol reduces the amount of S. mutans bacteria in the mouth, which reduces the amount of plaque and may help prevent tooth decay.

A 2014 study examined it on Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is the bacterium responsible for gingivitis, or gum disease. If left untreated, excess amounts of P. gingivalis can move into the bloodstream and lead to systemic inflammation.

In the study, scientists grew samples of P. gingivalis in a laboratory and added them to human cell cultures pretreated with xylitol. They saw that xylitol increased the production of immune system proteins and inhibited the growth of the bacteria.

Ear infections

Xylitol may help prevent ear infections.
Xylitol may help prevent ear infections.

The bacteria that cause tooth plaque can also accumulate behind the eardrum and cause infections of the middle ear. Doctors call these infections acute otitis media (AOM).

A 2016 systematic review found moderate-quality evidence that chewing gum, lozenges, or syrup containing xylitol can reduce the occurrence of AOM from 30 to 22 percent among healthy children.

However, a 2014 study found xylitol syrup to be ineffective in reducing AOM in children at high risk of the infection.

These conflicting results indicate the need for more research regarding the use of xylitol as a preventive treatment for ear infections in children.

Antioxidant properties

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, free radicals cause oxidative stress, which can lead to cell damage and may play a role in the development of several conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Laboratory studies show that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and counteract oxidative stress.

A 2014 study revealed that xylitol may have antioxidant properties. Diabetic rats who ate xylitol produced higher amounts of glutathione. This is an antioxidant that counteracts the harmful effects of free radicals. It is important to note that human studies are needed to validate these findings.

Side effects and safety

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved xylitol as a food additive. It is generally safe, but like other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive issues such as bloating and diarrhea in some people.

It is worth noting that this substance can be very toxic to dogs. It is vital to store products containing xylitol in a safe place that pets cannot reach. Anyone who thinks that their dog has consumed xylitol should call their veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately.

Drug interactions

Currently, xylitol has no known interactions with prescription or over-the-counter medications. Always consult a doctor about potential interactions when starting new medications or supplements, however.

Dosage

The suitable dosage of xylitol can vary from person to person. A 2016 review found that adults can safely tolerate between 10 grams (g) and 30 g  per day, which they usually divide into several smaller doses. After the body adapts, adults can consume up to 70 g per day without side effects.

Studies in children have used doses of up to 45 g daily. Some research suggests that consuming around 5–6 g  per day may help reduce plaque-causing bacteria in the mouth.

However, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that more research is necessary before recommending xylitol to improve dental health in children.

Alternatives to xylitol

Syrup or nectar in a glass bowl
Agave nectar is an alternative sweetener

Manufacturers use a range of low-calorie artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes to sweeten foods and beverages. Many of these substitutes are also available as table-top sweeteners, and some people use them in baking.

Some substitutes are significantly sweeter than table sugar. However, its sweetness is very similar to that of table sugar.

Other artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes include:

Sorbitol

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol with a similar molecular structure to xylitol. Sorbitol does not spike blood glucose levels, so it is a good sugar substitute for people who have diabetes.

Like xylitol, bacteria cannot break down sorbitol into the acids that cause tooth decay.

Erythritol

Erythritol is another sugar alcohol. Similarly to xylitol, erythritol also inhibits the growth of S. mutans.

A 2016 review found that high concentrations of erythritol are more effective at reducing oral plaque than both xylitol and sorbitol. However, xylitol is more effective than erythritol at lower concentrations.

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that manufacturers extract from the stevia plant. Stevia extract is available in granular and liquid forms. Purified leaf extract is 250–300 times sweeter than sugar.

Like xylitol, stevia can sometimes cause diarrhea and other digestive issues.

Agave nectar

Agave nectar is a syrup that manufacturers extract from the agave plant and use as a sugar substitute in some drinks and foods.

However, agave nectar mainly contains fructose, which bacteria in the mouth can break down into the acids that cause tooth decay.

Summary

Xylitol is a reduced-calorie sugar substitute similar in sweetness to table sugar. It also has a low GI, which makes it an attractive alternative to sugar for people wishing to lose weight and those with diabetes.

Some research also suggests that this compound has antibacterial properties that can help prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and ear infections. However, further research into the potential health benefits of xylitol is needed.

Natural Sugar effects

The effects of natural sugarnatural sugar fructose such as fructose on human health have been the source of much controversy. This is due to the fact that there are different kinds of foods, some of which are bad for health.

Fructose is a natural sugar that is present in fruits, fruit juices, certain vegetables, and honey. In these forms, this natural sugar can be part of a healthy diet.

However, it is also a component of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which manufacturers make from cornstarch and add to unhealthy foods such as sodas and candies.

Researchers are studying the links between high-fructose foods and obesity, diabetes, and even some cancers. However, there is also some evidence that indicates that it is not necessarily a public health concern when a person consumes it in moderation.

In this article, we will cover whether fructose is bad for health, the different types of sugar, and the research into their effects on the human body.

What is the natural sugar fructose?

apples and honey natural sugar
Fructose is a natural sugar present in fruit and honey.

Fructose is the sweetest of the naturally occurring caloric sweeteners. It occurs naturally in fruits, fruit juices, honey, and even some vegetables.

In its pure form, it is much sweeter than other types of sugar. As a result, people can use less of it than other sugars in cooking to achieve the same sweetness.

The most significant sources of fructose in the diet include:

  • table sugar
  • honey
  • agave nectar
  • fruit juices
  • HFCS, which is present in candy, baked goods, and sodas, and other processed foods

Manufacturers create HFCS by adding certain enzymes to cornstarch, which is essentially pure glucose. Glucose is another type of sugar. They then use this glucose to create a syrup that contains varying amounts of fructose.

Most varieties of HFCS contain either 42 or 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. This means that HFCS contains the same amount of fructose as sucrose, or table sugar.

Manufacturers make table sugar from a combination of fructose and glucose.

Honey is another common food additive. Honey contains a 1-to-1 ratio of fructose to glucose.

Is fructose bad for you?

A natural sugar like fructose from fresh fruit and vegetables is good for a person’s health. Processed forms of fructose, such as HFCS, may have negative health effects. Scientists are currently studying how this type of sweetener compares with other forms of sugar.

Below, we discuss the research around the possible risks and benefits of fructose on a person’s health.

The evidence against fructose

woman pinching stomach
Consuming large amounts of fructose may put a person at greater risk of obesity.

Some researchers believe that the body processes fructose differently than other types of sugar.

In particular, there are concerns that when a person consumes fructose in excess, it may stimulate the body to deposit extra fat, especially in the liver. This may contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

According to a 2017 literature review, eating excessive amounts of fructose is associated with:

  • inflammation that could lead to insulin resistance
  • increased development of fat, as it may alter the ways that the body breaks down fats and carbohydrates
  • a greater risk of obesity and related conditions, such as metabolic syndrome
  • greater food intake, as it does not make people feel full

A 2016 study looked at the effects of fructose-rich drink consumption in those aged 12–16 years in Taiwan. People who drank more fructose-rich drinks had higher levels of insulin resistance, which is a marker for hardened arteries, diabetes, and heart disease in adults.

The evidence for fructose

Although there is evidence that excess fructose consumption is bad for health, it is difficult for researchers to separate the effects of fructose in the diet from those of other sugars.

This is because foods that contain high levels of added fructose usually also contain high levels of other sugars, such as glucose. Scientists conduct many research studies on the effects of fructose in rats fed combinations of sugars.

A 2014 literature review states that fructose does not have specific effects on the body that can cause weight gain when compared with eating sugar from other sources.

The authors also argue that, while sugar-sweetened drinks contain fructose, they are also high in calories. This may explain some links between fructose and obesity.

To date, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that they are not currently aware of any evidence that foods containing HFCS are less safe than other foods containing similar sweeteners, such as sucrose and honey.

The FDA list HFCS, the most controversial of the fructose-containing foods, as safe to eat.

However, people should limit their intake of all added sugars, including HFCS and sucrose.

Fructose vs. glucose

Fructose can bind to glucose. Fructose plus glucose is called sucrose, or table sugar.

Unlike fructose, the body largely breaks glucose down in the cells. The small intestine usually absorbs this sugar type and sends it out to the body’s cells for energy. Researchers usually regard glucose as the body’s preferred carbohydrate source for energy.

When a person eats glucose, the chemical structure of the compound triggers the pancreas to release insulin, a hormone that allows cells to use glucose for energy.

A natural sugar such as Fructose does not trigger insulin release, nor does it trigger the release of hormones such as leptin, which tells the brain that a person is full, or inhibit hormones that tell a person’s body that they are hungry.

As a result, researchers suggest that fructose is more harmful to a person because they are more likely to eat more than if they had eaten food containing glucose.

However, a person should remember that foods with glucose-containing sugars still have calories. Excess calorie intake can lead to weight gain.

Sources and types of fructose

young woman eating a pear
Pears are naturally high in fructose.

Two fructose types exist: naturally occurring and HFCS. The body digests both the same way.

Examples of natural foods that are naturally high in fructose include:

  • agave syrup
  • apple juice
  • apples
  • caramel
  • dry figs
  • honey
  • licorice
  • molasses
  • pears
  • prunes
  • sorghum

Some vegetables contain fructose, but this is usually in smaller amounts than fruits. These include:

  • asparagus
  • chicory roots
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • leeks
  • onions

Summary

Fructose is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables, which people can include as part of a healthful, balanced diet.

Researchers are still debating whether various forms of fructose are bad for people’s health. The FDA state that fructose is a safe ingredient to add to foods.

They believe that there is not enough evidence to say that fructose is less safe than other similar sugars, such as sucrose and honey, but they recommend limiting all added sugars.

When people eat or drink lots of high-fructose foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, they are also taking in extra calories that can contribute to weight gain.

There is no recommended minimum or maximum intake of fructose daily because a person does not need this sugar to survive. Manufacturers add fructose to foods as a sweetener, but it has little nutritional value.

Where possible, doctors recommend that people eat fresh, whole foods and avoid frequently eating foods with added sugars.