HealthBalancing sweetness and health: The pros and cons of using xylitol as a sugar alternative

Balancing sweetness and health: The pros and cons of using xylitol as a sugar alternative

What is worth replacing sugar with?
What is worth replacing sugar with?
Images source: © Licensor | Nadzeya Haroshka

4:21 PM EST, February 21, 2024

Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol (polyol) used as a sugar alternative. It is mainly derived from plant fiber sources, especially birch bark, and is also naturally found in some fruits and vegetables like plums, strawberries, cauliflower, and pumpkin.

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Compared to other sweeteners, xylitol is one of the better choices. However, overconsumption can lead to intestinal fermentation, causing discomfort in the form of bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Therefore, it's recommended to gradually introduce this sweetener into your diet to allow your body to adapt.

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The primary benefits of xylitol

One attractive feature of xylitol is that it provides fewer calories than sugar, offering around 2.4 kcal/g compared to the 4 kcal/g provided by sucrose. This makes it an excellent choice for those monitoring their weight or controlling their calorie intake. Additionally, it has a low glycemic index.

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Xylitol is also recognized for its dental benefits. It has anti-cavity effects, stimulates saliva production, and reduces gum inflammation, thereby promoting oral health and hygiene. Additionally, it can bind with calcium ions, which leads to tooth enamel remineralization.

Interesting findings suggest that xylitol could potentially improve skin thickness and stimulate innate and adaptive immunity, mostly against bacterial infections. Its effects on the composition and activity of gut microbes have also been noted (in vitro and animal studies).

The main drawbacks of xylitol

The most commonly studied disadvantage of xylitol is its aforementioned ability to cause gastrointestinal problems.

It's equally important to remember that xylitol is highly toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can be life-threatening. Dog caregivers should prevent their pets from accessing products containing xylitol.

Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include vomiting, followed by symptoms related to a sudden drop in the dog's blood sugar levels, such as reduced activity, weakness, staggering, lack of coordination, collapse, and seizures. If you suspect your dog has consumed a product containing xylitol, it is advised to take them to the veterinarian immediately.

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