Age-net brings you the real scoop on what Xylitol really is, and lays out both the good and the bad things it can do for you
If you don’t have a sweet tooth yourself, you’ll likely know someone who does. The person in your family or a friend who cannot take a cup of tea or coffee without sweetening it up with a teaspoon, or two, or three or more of sugar.The table sugar we’re used to is sucrose and it’s the main cause for tooth cavities, and even worse, tooth extractions when you have had too much sugar degrade your teeth enamel.
The alternative to sucrose is the polyalcohol, or shortened to just polyols (sugar alcohol) version of sugar and that’s what Xylitol is.
It’s used in a variety of toothpastes, chewing gum, and found in many artificial sweeteners. For many, it’s the miracle sugar that helps fight tooth decay, gives you the sugar kick without the negligible effects of spiking your blood sugar levels, which makes it safe for consumption by diabetics. (In moderation.)
The term sugar alcohol shouldn’t worry you either. It has nothing to do with regular alcohol so for reformed alcoholics, Xylitol is a safe sugar alternative.
Nutritionists advise it for weight management, dentists for fighting tooth decay and doctors for advising patients on lowering their calorie consumption.
With that in mind, the healthy alternative is to knock as much sugar out of your diet as you possibly can. Especially if you have diabetes as the sugar will cause your blood levels to spike, but even if you don’t have any medical conditions, you don’t want to hit the sugar crash anyway.
That happens when your body is used to a certain amount of sugar in your diet, your metabolism adjusts to expect the sugar top up, and when you cut it down – you feel lethargic.
The alternative is to adjust your sugar intake and switch to the healthier option. Most people know this technique as simply switching from the typical table sugar (granulated or sucrose) that you’re used to and onto using artificial sweeteners.
Xylitol is the sugar used in artificial sweeteners, but there’s more to it than just adding a drop to your tea or coffee.
Why is Xylitol so widely used
Partly because it works, but mostly because of the negligible effects it has on your overall health, while catering to your sweet tooth.
You’re able to get the best of both worlds.
We’re all familiar with the term ‘sweet tooth’ but in reality it is not your tooth that craves the sweetness. It’s the receptors on your tongue.
Xylitol is a hybrid sugar, in that the molecules that make it are a combination of sugar and alcohol. Small amounts of it are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables so it is a natural type of sugar, similar to fructose.
The calorie facts are where the important part lies
- Table sugar contains four calories for every gram
- Xylitol contains only 2.4 calories for every gram
That’s a whopping 40% reduction in caloric intake just from switching sugar types.
Those with diabetes need to be sure the foods they consume don’t spike their blood sugar levels. Unless, of course, it’s lowered dramatically and you need to intervene to raise it. However, for a controlled diet, the Glycemic Index is where you need to turn your attention.
Table sugar ranks high on the Glycemic Index, scoring a high 60 – 70. Xylitol scores a GI of just 7.
It is important to note that the score is not zero. That means that the more of it you take, the more likely it is to affect your blood sugar levels. It is a good healthy alternative, but it is not for consistent use throughout the day. For the occasional sugar fix, it’s a good alternative, but always remember it does have the ability to affect your blood sugar levels. Use with moderation, and consult your doctor about how much is a safe amount for you to consume.
Every body consumes sugar differently, so what works for someone you know, may not work the same for you.
Better oral health for all
Oral health is where the best benefits of Xylitol are. When tooth decay occurs, it happens because of the bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. It’s this bacteria that causes plaque to accumulate and then your immune system kicks in to start fighting the plaque before it causes gum disease, such as Gingivitus.
The bacteria Streptococcus mutans relies on fructose, sucrose and other types of sugar to feed it, which is why those who consume high amounts of sugar are more troubled with plaque and tooth decay than those who aren’t.
Since Xylitol is a polyol, meaning it’s a hybrid molecule that simulate the sweetening effect of sugar, it doesn’t feed the bacteria, therefore it fights off plaque. It’s an excellent defender for optimum oral health.
This is why dentists often advise patients affected with plaque and tooth decay to chew on gum that has Xylitol used as a sweetener.
The other thing that happens when you chew on gum of any type is you increase saliva production and that in itself is a good thing. Your saliva naturally contains phosphate and calcium, both of which help strengthen your teeth enamel and maintain healthy gums.
On the other hand, if you’re consistently consuming a high amount of sugar, it increases the acidity of your saliva, and therefore takes the reverse effect.
Be warned: This must be used in moderation
Within the EU, there’s a reason you won’t find soft drinks sweetened with Xylitol. They aren’t allowed to because it was banned years ago because of the laxative effect this type of sugar has.
Whilst there are no current guidelines set as to what an acceptable daily intake is, there are warnings that overuse can cause bloating, water retention and diarrhoea.
Any food products that are artificially sweetened with Xylitol will carry a warning on them stating that “excessive consumption may induce laxative effects”.
The bottom line is that you can reap both the general health and oral health benefits of Xylitol as a sweetener instead of using traditional tabletop sugar, but you must do it in moderation.