Xylitol is a plant extract with the worst name in the history of health food. This natural sweetener looks a lot like cane sugar but is actually sugar free and has minimal effects on blood sugar levels. At Honest Goods Co. we are committed to offering sugar free and fructose friendly products, so we use Xylitol in a couple of our baked goods (Paleo Coco Banana bread, Vegan Brownies). One of our most frequently asked questions is – what exactly is Xylitol? So here we’re going to break it down for you…
Xylitol is classed in a category of natural sweeteners called sugar alcohols, which is confusing because they are neither sugar, nor alcohol. Sugar alcohols, also called polyols, taste sweet, but they are lower in calories than actual sugar. They also require very little insulin to metabolise, which means that effects on blood sugar are minimal (compared to fructose, which is known to spike blood sugar levels). Xylitol and other sugar alcohols are found naturally occurring in plants, however processing is required in order to extract the sugar alcohol element from the natural source.
Xylitol was originally extracted from birch trees, but these days it is more commonly sourced from corn, so it’s important to check that it’s non-GMO. For the record, at Honest Goods Co. we have a strict non-GMO policy and can confirm that our Xylitol pure and safe.
Xylitol was first discovered at the end of the 19th Century in Europe, but it didn’t come into commercial use until sugar rationing in World War II pushed industry into coming up methods for manufacturing sugar substitutes. Xylitol became widely used in Scandinavian countries in particular, and after some time dentists started to notice that oral health in the Scandi region was improving across the board. It is now known that Xylitol reduces the development of caries and improves oral hygiene due its antibacterial properties.
Benefits & Uses
Aside from improving dental hygiene and reducing instance and severity of caries, Xylitol is used to stave off middle ear infections in children. It is also a popular sweetener for people with diabetes, allowing a little bit of sweetness without a big sugar spike.
Because it is sugar free and low in calories (40% fewer calories than table sugar), Xylitol is suitable for a whole range of diets including Keto, Sugar Free, Vegan, Candida and Paleo (provided your interpretation of Paleo allows some processed foods).
If you are committed to a 100% wholefoods diet, Xylitol may not be for you – even though it’s natural, it is processed. Xylitol can also be problematic for people who suffer from IBS or FODMAPS related gut issues. Xylitol is a polyol (the P in the FODMAP acronym), so eating too much of it can create gas in the gut and may cause a laxative effect. Most importantly if you have a fur baby in your life, dogs cannot tolerate Xylitol at all. It’s very important that you do not allow your dog to ingest Xylitol, as it can make them very ill and can even be fatal.
As in all things, the general rule of thumb when it comes to Xylitol is to consume it in moderation. And protect your dogs by making sure you scoff all of that Vegan Brownie before you get home.