Xylitol is a sugar-free sweetener that is becoming increasingly popular as people try to reduce the amount of refined sugar they eat. It is found in several different types of fruit and vegetables including pumpkins, plums and cauliflowers as well as in birch trees. It is also made naturally in the human body when it metabolises carbohydrates.
Xylitol is a polyalcohol and the name itself is derived from the Greek word for wood, ‘xyl’, combined with ‘-itol’ which signifies that it is a sugar alcohol. The structure of sugar alcohol triggers the tongue’s taste receptors for sweetness which respond in the same way that they do to sugar.
Humans absorb xylitol at a slower rate than most other sugars, so people with diabetes often use it in place of sugar as it does not cause the same type of spike in blood sugar.
The fact that it is lower calorie makes it an ideal sweetener for anyone trying to reduce their sugar intake. The glycaemic index of xylitol is around 7% of that of glucose, making it an ideal choice for anyone trying to regulate their blood sugar through their diet.
Xylitol in food
Xylitol is becoming increasingly popular as an additive in a range of foods, including those designed for those following a low-sugar diet. It can be found in lots of products such as mints, boiled sweets, jellies and jams. It is particularly useful in diabetes-friendly foods due to its slow absorption and the fact that it has barely any effect on insulin makes it suitable for diabetics. Research suggests that xylitol may reduce the symptoms of diabetes and aid weight loss even for those with high-fat diets.
With just over half the calories of sugar, the fact that sugar alcohols don’t raise blood sugar means that the body doesn’t process them as carbohydrates. For this reason, it is often used in low carb products and recipes.
Other uses of xylitol
Xylitol is used to sweeten a number of dental hygiene products including mouthwash and toothpaste. The types of bacteria typically found in the mouth cannot use xylitol to live on, so it is an ideal sweetener to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Dentists also recommend using chewing gum sweetened with xylitol in order to create a hostile environment in the mouth with no viable food for the bacteria that cause plaque. While the presence of xylitol can keep bad bacteria at bay, friendly bacteria seem unaffected, making it a good choice for healthy teeth and gums.
Medical researchers are studying the use of xylitol as a way to prevent recurrent attacks of middle ear inflammation as it is thought to stop bacteria from growing and reproducing. By reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth, the likelihood of them finding their way into the ear is lessened,
It can also be found in cough syrups, vitamins and other over the counter medicines that need a sweet flavouring with only 40% of the calories and minimal impact on blood chemistry compared to sugar.
There is also some indication that xylitol could help the body to absorb calcium more efficiently in the digestive system which could help strengthen teeth and bones and protect against osteoporosis.
It’s suitable for vegans and gluten-free as well as being kosher and halal, so xylitol is a useful ingredient to have around if you are catering for those on low-sugar diets and any other dietary requirements. From replacing the sugar in your tea to creating sweet treats that won’t send your blood sugar skyrocketing, xylitol is a versatile ingredient that is a must for anyone who wants to cut down on sugar.