In our previous articles, we talked about how sugar has a negative effect on your physical health. We also discussed some alternative sweeteners you can use. In this article, we’re going to narrow in on one of these sweeteners. Xylitol has been gaining popularity these days. Let’s look into why.
When people eat sweet things, they are looking to fulfill an emotional response. The sweeteners used in these foods may be sucrose, natural sugars in fruit, maple syrup, or xylitol. Eating is a very emotional experience. What we eat changes when we’re happy or sad or angry. When eating something sweet, we’re looking for what will fulfill that emotional response. This is why most people don’t turn to something like an apple or orange. These have a moderate amount of the sweetness they are looking for. Instead, they turn to something like a cupcake that delivers a much larger amount.
It’s important to look at which sweeteners won’t send us into a tailspin, health-wise. What can give that emotional response without causing our health to tank? We choose xylitol.
What is Xylitol?
WebMD1 defines xylitol as follows:
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol found in plants, including many fruits and vegetables. It has a sweet taste and is often used as a sugar substitute.
Xylitol tastes sweet but, unlike sugar, it doesn’t cause tooth decay. It reduces levels of decay-causing bacteria in saliva and also acts against some bacteria that cause ear infections. It’s widely used in “sugar-free” chewing gums, mints, and other candies.
Xylitol is a high-grade, sugar-free sweetener derived from trees or plants. Birch xylitol has the least change physiologically and even has some medicinal properties. This is your emotional decision. That doesn’t mean you have to leave your head completely out of the conversation. So, what do you need to know?
Xylitol is Processed
Everything you eat is processed, in some way. Organic or not, most of the food we eat is processed, unless we go out into a field, pick, and eat it raw. Any sweetener you find is going to have been processed in some way, likely through heat or chemicals.
What processing did the xylitol you’re eating go through? This is what makes the difference between things that are fine to eat, and things that are bad to eat. Most of what is processed didn’t start out bad. Most of the processing comes about because of something done in the interest of turning a profit. It’s more expensive to extract xylitol from birch than, say, corn. Corn is easier and faster to grow than birch. Because of this, corn xylitol is less expensive, while birch xylitol is better for your health.
Only a few types of GMO crops are grown in the United States, but some of these GMOs make up a large percentage of the crop grown (e.g., soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola, and cotton).
Make sure you know how your xylitol is made–and of what–before you buy; you get what you pay for.
Xylitol is Toxic to Dogs
It doesn’t take much for xylitol to impact dogs. Be sure to keep yours closed up tight, and in a tall place. The FDA3 explains this as follows:
In both people and dogs, the level of blood sugar is controlled by the release of insulin from the pancreas. In people, xylitol does not stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. However, it’s different in canines: When dogs eat something containing xylitol, the xylitol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, and may result in a potent release of insulin from the pancreas. … A note to cat and ferret owners: Xylitol does not seem to be as dangerous for cats and other pets. Cats appear to be spared, at least in part, by their disdain for sweets. Ferret owners, however, should be careful, as ferrets have been known to develop low blood sugar and seizures, like dogs, after eating products containing xylitol.
It’s not a lot of xylitol that’s needed, either. The NIH4 gives these numbers:
Dogs that ingest doses of >0.1 g/kg of xylitol are at risk for developing hypoglycemia, while dogs that ingest >0.5 g/kg may develop acute liver failure.
It’s a good thing, then, you’re not feeding the xylitol to dogs, but people! And xylitol is good for people. Emphasize training the dog not to go digging through cupboards or jumping up on the counter. This’ll keep everyone safe and able to enjoy the benefits xylitol gives.
Believe It or Not, Xylitol Has Fantastic Health Benefits!
Xylitol may not be your dog’s best friend, but it’s great for people! Whether you enjoy it in chewing gum, use it in toothpaste, or cook with it, xylitol has powerful benefits for many systems of the body.
Xylitol Reduces Ear Infections
As mentioned above, xylitol acts against bacteria that cause ear infections. Ezine Articles5 puts it this way:
Xylitol is a great option for those that are seeking to avoid ear infections. This naturally occurring substance has proven to reduce the incidence of ear infection in those that have a history of them. … It is known to prevent the growth of certain bacteria, specifically the bacteria that causes dental cavities, sinus infections, and ear infections. This substance does not require a prescription and is available in many different forms and is safe for everyone to take. Studies have shown that children who chew Xylitol gum can reduce the incidence of ear infection by as much as 50%!
The NIH6 also shares that:
In two clinical trials xylitol [one found here7] was found efficient to prevent the development of acute otitis media with a daily dose of 8.4-10 g of xylitol given in five divided doses. The efficacy in these 2-3 months follow-up trials was approximately 40% when chewing gum was used and approximately 30% with xylitol syrup. The need to use antimicrobials reduced markedly when using xylitol.
Xylitol is Good for Your Teeth
The NIH8 has this to say when it comes to xylitol and its impact on your oral health:
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is commonly used as a sweetener. It can be found naturally or artificially prepared mainly from plant materials chemically or by fermentation of hemicelluloses from agricultural biomass by yeast or bacteria strains. This polyol has a significant antiplaque effect on teeth surface and can reduce the gingival inflammation; it is being used as a preventive agent for dental caries due to decreasing the growth levels of pathogenic Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sangui at the very early stages. Xylitol can bind with calcium ion leading to consequent remineralization of teeth enamel; it is also able to prevent osteoporosis.
Did you know your tooth enamel can be remineralized? Well, they can, and by the same thing that fights plaque and reduces gingivitis, too! One of the many reasons xylitol is a very good alternative sweetener to choose.
Xylitol is an Insoluble Fiber
Study.com9 defines the term ‘insoluble’ as follows:
Insoluble fiber is a fiber that cannot be dissolved in water or another liquid. Think about it this way: it’s almost like when you make a bowl of cereal. You put the cereal in the bowl and then add milk. The cereal will float in the milk, but it will not dissolve to become a part of the milk. This is in comparison to lemonade. When you squeeze the lemons and add sugar to water, everything dissolves and creates a new substance, which is the lemonade.
Do these substances provide any benefits to the body? Yes, actually. Very Well Fit10 credits them with benefiting both digestion and colon health.
Xylitol is one of these insoluble fibers. Its health benefits with digestion can cause upset in the digestive tract. This is one of the complaints and warnings people have against xylitol. This doesn’t mean it’s as bad as people make it seem, though
For more information on insoluble fiber, check out this article.
Xylitol Can Cause Diarrhea, But That’s Not Bad!
Xylitol is antibacterial and antifungal and to aid in digestion. What is diarrhea if not the GI tract clearing out everything that doesn’t need to be there? You’re eating something that fights things that aren’t supposed to be in your body. Doesn’t it stand to reason that you’ll see more of those things flushed out? Diarrhea isn’t bad, just like underarm odor isn’t bad. Sometimes, it’s a sign that your body is working to detox what isn’t healthy for it.
There was a study11 done in 2016. It showed some people had increased gastrointestinal disturbances and diarrhea after eating xylitol. After 140 days, though, these disturbances evened out. This could be because xylitol had cleared the GI tract and improved the state of the garden that is the human gut.
You are Likely Already Taking in Xylitol
Xylitol is naturally found in some foods. Grapes, bananas, strawberries, lettuce, cauliflower, mushrooms, and onions are a few examples. The amount in these foods is very small. As a result, the cost of trying to extract xylitol from these foods would be incredibly high. This is why xylitol is made from birch, and, unfortunately, corn.
Our bodies already produce up to 15 grams of xylitol. They do this using established energy pathways. Xylitol is not a foreign substance. It’s natural and something your body is already using for everyday metabolism.
Xylitol is a Great Substitute for Those Watching Their Blood Sugar
Xylitol has a much lower glycemic index than many of its alternatives. While honey, like xylitol, has many medicinal properties, it can spike blood sugar. Xylitol doesn’t have the same concerns.
Average Glycemic Index:
- Table Sugar: 65
- Honey: 58
- Maple Syrup: 54
- Brown Rice Syrup: 35
- Agave Syrup: 15
- Xylitol: 12
Much of what we’re told when it comes to weight loss these days isn’t true. Your weight isn’t dependent solely on how much food you eat, or how much you exercise. Sugar makes it harder to lose weight. It exacerbates inflammation and infections, which cause swelling. Choosing a sweetener that doesn’t act against your weight loss goals makes it easier to slim down. Xylitol has 40% fewer calories than sugar12. If you’re counting calories for your weight loss, xylitol is the winner!
Sugar has become a staple in the average diet. The good news is that you don’t have to give up a sweet taste in your choice to eat better for your body. Xylitol works as a 1::1 ratio in cooking, so it’s an easy switch.
This holiday season, put back the sugar cookie. Get a sweet treat and health benefits with a xylitol one, instead!
For more information on how to live and eat in ways that impact your body for the better, contact a Wellness Way clinic, today!
- Xylitol – Uses, Side Effects, and More: WebMD
- GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond: FDA
- Paws Off Xylitol; It’s Dangerous for Dogs: FDA
- Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs: PubMed
- Xylitol and Ear Infection Treatment: Ezine Articles
- Xylitol in preventing acute otitis media: PubMed
- A novel use of xylitol sugar in preventing acute otitis media: PubMed
- Health Benefits of Xylitol: PubMed
- What is Insoluble Fiber? Study.com
- Insoluble Fiber Benefits and Sources: verywellfit
- Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals: PubMed
- Xylitol vs. Sugar: John Highsmith DDS