It’s not as widely known as stevia, but from all the literature I’ve read on it, xylitol sounds like the ideal sugar substitute. It is a sugar substitute which tastes just like sugar or fructose. But the taste is about the only thing xylitol has in common with sugar. We all know sugar is extremely bad for you. It can raise your blood sugar or glucose levels which can lead to diabetes; it causes glycation and cross-linking of collagen fibers which presents as skin blotches and wrinkling….it ages you. Sugar encourages the storage of fat which can make you gain weight. So, sugar and corn fructose are two of the worst things you can consume in any amount. I cut out regular sugar a long time ago, and my craving for sweets has diminished a lot. But I still need a sugar substitute for coffee and for cooking and baking. In the past, I would use coconut palm sugar, but that has a slight molasses taste. So, I decided to look around for another sugar substitute. I had been using xylitol the last 2 years for dental care, and a few months ago started using it as a sugar substitute, after I read about its many other health benefits.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol present in fruits, berries, mushrooms, and vegetation. The two main sources for commercial xylitol are corn and birch bark. The body normally manufactures some xylitol during the metabolic process so it’s easily assimilated when consumed. The process for extracting xylitol from birch was discovered in the late 19th century in Europe; therefore, it has a long track record of safety and efficacy. There are many benefits of xylitol, but one of the most widely known benefits is that it promotes dental health. Strange as it seems, by using xylitol toothpaste, mouthwash, and gum/mints on a daily basis, you can prevent cavities from forming. Unlike sugar and fructose, xylitol’s molecular structure does not promote bacterial growth. Xylitol actually kills bacteria. The other big benefit is that xylitol has an extremely low glycemic index of less than 11 and is metabolized very slowly. It has 40% fewer calories and 75% less carbohydrates than regular sugar. It does not drive up blood glucose levels like regular sugar does. So, this is an ideal sweetener for diabetics. With xylitol, you avoid the myriad of health problems associated with consuming sugar, including aging from glycation and cross-linked proteins.
Other studies have shown xylitol to promote bone density, reduce symptoms of arthritis, promote the production of the antioxidant glutathione, and may reduce ear, sinus, and respiratory infections. Most intriguing are a couple of studies on rats in 2000 and 2006 which seemed to indicate xylitol had the ability to increase collagen production and slow down collagen breakdown associated with aging. I know you can’t surmise from a couple of rat studies xylitols’s effect on human collagen, but it’s nice to speculate. Hopefully, a study on xylitol and human collagen production will come out in the future.
But what about taste? This has always been the problem for me. I’ve tried many sugar substitutes but they weren’t sweet enough or had an awful aftertaste. I can say with 100% confidence, you cannot taste a difference between sugar and xylitol. I gave my husband the taste test with coffee and he actually preferred the one with xylitol. He normally drinks coffee with agave nectar. The appearance is very similar to sugar, but the crystals are slightly larger. They have the strange ability to cool down liquids. Put some on your tongue, and you will feel this cooling effect. It may be slightly less sweet than regular sugar, but not by much. You can use it in a 1:1 ratio in all recipes just like sugar. The only exception is for activating yeast for breads. Yeast, like bacteria, feeds on sugar and since xylitol cannot be “consumed” by the yeast, it will not activate the yeast for bread rising. So use another sugar like palm sugar, agave nectar, or honey when activating yeast.
There are no known harmful side effects of long-term xylitol consumption. However, you do need to start slowly and let your body adjust to the xylitol. As with all sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect if consumed in large amounts at one time. You may have a little diarrhea in the beginning, but I’ve found that over time the body adjusts, and the diarrheal effect goes away on its own. Start with a teaspoon (4 grams) a day in your coffee or tea and build up your tolerance. Chew some gum or take some mints daily. To have a beneficial effect on dental health, the recommended required dose is 6 grams of xylitol a day. I personally like Epic xylitol products. The xylitol content in the Epic products is very high, their production method is stringent, and the source of the corn used is non-GMO. They are a small family-based company in Utah, and their prices are reasonable.
There is one potential danger of using xylitol, but it’s concerning dogs. Xylitol can produce rapid hypoglycemia in dogs, so it’s very important to never give xylitol products to dogs. Just as chocolate is dangerous to dogs, many things that are safe for humans to consume are deadly for our canine family members.
So, I hope you give xylitol a try. If you want to buy a small bag, you can find it at all green and organic food stores like Whole Foods and Natural Grocers. If you like it, then find better pricing online. Compared to regular sugar, the price for a 5-pound bag is pretty steep at about $20+, but considering all its health benefits, especially with the possible aid in collagen production, it’s worth the price to me.