Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol have a long history of use as sweeteners. Now, there’s a new sweetener making news in the U.S.. It’s called erythritol and health experts in both mainstream and natural medicine are embracing it. Here’s what you need to know about this exciting new Japanese import called erythritol.
What Is Erythritol?
Chemically, erythritol is simply a four-carbon sugar alcohol. For commercial and industrial purposes, erythritol is made by fermenting glucose then separating and purifying the resulting product.
Is Erythritol Natural?
While erythritol occurs in nature, the erythritol you’ll find at your local health food store is a manufactured product that is no more or no less “natural” than any other sugar alcohol. Unlike other sugar alcohols, though, erythritol is almost completely absorbed by the body and shows no tendency to be toxic or carcinogenic.
Is Erythritol Better Than Xylitol?
Unlike xylitol, which can aggravate symptoms of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, erythritol is rapidly and easily absorbed in the small intestines. Because only about 10% of consumed erythritol enters the colon, erythritol is less likely than other “natural” sweeteners to cause bloating and gas. Additionally, erythritol seems less likely to act as a food source for your colon’s natural flora; this further reduces the potential for bloating and flatulence.
Erythritol is also far less likely than other sugar alcohols to increase plasma glucose and insulin levels, making erythritol potentially safer for diabetics. This is significant because even xylitol, which is widely used in low-sugar and diabetic-friendly foods, has at least some potential for increasing blood glucose levels.
Is Erythritol Better Than Table Sugar?
Compared to sugar, erythritol is only about 70% as sweet. Another disadvantage of erythritol is that it doesn’t dissolve quite as well as regular table sugar. But erythritol’s energy value is far lower than sugar’s. Erythritol has only about .2 calories per gram. By contrast, white table sugar as around 4 calories per gram.
Is Erythritol Right For You?
Currently, safety studies on erythritol have been extremely encouraging. Erythritol shows no potential for toxicity and very little potential for side effects, especially when used within recommended guidelines. This makes erythritol a safe, if not entirely “natural”, choice for most people.
Obviously, only your doctor is qualified to give you medical advice. If you have any concerns about the safety of erythritol or have been told that you shouldn’t consume sugar alcohols, talk to your primary health care provider for the information that’s right for you.
Arrigoni, E., et al. (2005). Human gut microbiota does not ferment erythritol.