Nutrition / Food

Erythritol 101: Everything You Need to Know

This sugar substitute comes with virtually no calories, but what about the health risks?

Sugar substitutes are becoming increasingly popular. People tend to eliminate sugar from their diets for various reasons.

It could be because of weight loss or because they’re diabetic. As a result, most turn to alternatives, such as erythritol, to keep some sweetness.

It may mean you can lower your sugar intake. However, it also raises other questions such as whether erythritol is really a healthier alternative and what the potential side effects are, if any.

Where can you find erythritol?

Many low-carb and/or sugar-free products contain erythritol. It’s a natural ingredient of other everyday foods such as watermelon, grapes, wine, soy sauce, and pears.

It’s useful in baking because high temperatures don’t affect it. It assists in extending the shelf life of baked products and can also add volume to dairy items.

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Benefits of Erythritol

It fits into a low-carb diet.

If you’re on a low-carb diet or have diabetes, then erythritol is a great alternative. It’s a sugar alcohol that looks and tastes like table sugar, but doesn’t have the four calories per gram. The body doesn’t metabolize it or break it down. Rather, the small intestine absorbs it, and it exits unchanged as urine. So, it has almost no calories!

It won’t negatively affect people with diabetes.

Great news! Erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugar, glucose, or insulin in people with diabetes. One study that consisted of five healthy male volunteers being administered erythritol (0.3 g/kg body weight) found that 90 percent of this blood sugar was actually “readily absorbed and excreted in urine without degradation.” It did not have an impact on the participants’ serum levels of glucose or insulin.

These results were replicated in another study, this time with patients with diabetes. After two weeks of daily erythritol administration, the results showed that there was “no adverse effect on blood glucose control.” People with diabetes can use it as a sugar substitute without experiencing any negative impact on their blood sugar.

It’s better for oral hygiene.

Emily Seddon, naturopath and nutritionist at I Quit Sugar, says, “Erythritol is also tooth-friendly. Oral bacteria can’t feast on it like sugar, so it doesn’t contribute to tooth decay.”
This also applies to children. In fact, the Journal of Dentistry published a study showing that children ages 7-8 had reduced plaque growth over a three-year period of consuming erythritol-containing candies.

This puts it at an advantage compared to sweeteners such as stevia that do cause cavities. Your dentist will definitely thank you for making the switch.

Health Risks

Although erythritol is a good substitute for sugar, you do need to be careful about how much you consume. Excessive amounts can cause some negative symptoms.

It can lead to overeating.

People turn to sugar substitutes to help them eat fewer calories and lose weight. But, ironically, doing so could cause the opposite effect. The body doesn’t metabolize erythritol. This means it doesn’t register that anything has been ingested. If you’re consuming products that contain this sugar substitute, you may not feel as satiated, which can lead to overeating.

It can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

Individual tolerance of erythritol varies. However, on average, consuming more than 50 grams per serving can cause some negative symptoms. Common effects include nausea, flatulence, and bloating. It can also cause diarrhea. When you have an excessive amount of erythritol, it draws too much water from the intestinal walls.

Compared to other sweeteners, the side effects of erythritol are on a lesser scale. Other sugar substitutes, such as xylitol, produce more significant symptoms at a lower dosage. But if you have gastro issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, it may be best to steer clear altogether.

It’s usually combined with other substances.

Erythritol isn’t completely in the clear. Most of the time, manufacturers add other artificial sweeteners to the mix. When combined with other substances, erythritol can cause more problems.

A study published in Nutrition Research concluded that the “combination of erythritol and fructose increases gastrointestinal symptoms in healthy adults.” Just because it is a low-carb option and has fewer calories than normal sugar doesn’t mean that it’s automatically good for you.

So, is it safe to ingest?

Erythritol is a great alternative for those following a low-carb diet or watching their insulin levels. It’s also a good substitute for sugar.

Apart from some side effects if you have it in high dosages, it is safe to consume. Make sure, though, that you practice the “everything in moderation” rule so that you don’t ingest excessive amounts.

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