Xylitol – A Sweetener That Can Improve Your Health!

Sweet Tooth

I would consider myself to have quite a sweet tooth, in fact probably a whole mouth full of them! Growing up I literally couldn’t get enough sugar, but that all changed when I gave it up. My taste buds had a chance to recover from the constant over stimulation of sweet tasting foods, and I actually started to appreciate the tastes and flavors of real food, particularly vegetables.

But over the years I have tried a number of natural sweeteners (stay far away from artificial sweeteners) and one in particular really stands out. It’s called xylitol.

Xylo – what?

Don’t let the name put you off, the “X” at the start of the word is pronounced like a “Z”, so it sounds like [zahy-li-tawl], if that makes sense? Some of you may be familiar with it, but I’m guessing many of you have never heard of it. Xylitol is a plant sugar, but different from fructose. Raspberries, plums, corn and birch trees contain high levels of xylitol. Birch trees in Finland where the original source for xylitol extraction, begining in the late 19th century , where the the process was perfected, leading to Finland being the main producer of xylitol for many years. Interestingly the human body actually produces a certain amount of xylitol naturally.

Xylitol is polyol (or  sugar alcohol), but unlike other sugar alcohols it breaks down very slowly, and is only one-tenth the strength of another widely used sugar alcohol, sorbitol. As sweet as table sugar, yet containing 40% less calories, and 75% less carbohydrate, xylitol is an excellent alternative to sugar and sweeteners, but it offers so much more than just sweetness.

Xylitol Does Not Require An Insulin Response To Be Metabolised

This is a pretty big deal, as high sugar diets exhaust our insulin sensitivity and eventually lead to insulin resistance, resulting in type 2 diabetes among other diseases. In the case of fructose (often labelled as high fructose corn syrup and glucose-fructose in Europe), which is being added to just about every processed food available, particularly soft drinks, breakfast cereals, ice cream and candy, the damage to health is possibly even worse than sugar!

Fructose in it’s natural form is perfectly fine, as it is always accompanied by a much greater percentage of fibre. When the fibre is removed our bodies don’t register that we have eaten something and no insulin is released, leaving the fructose in our blood stream to attack our vital organs! Causing a crosslinking of proteins, known as glycation.

Xylitol however does not require an insulin response to be metabolised, and even helps to stabilise blood sugar. We want our blood sugar stable so we can keep burning fat rather than storing it. Xylitol is broken down very slowly due to it’s very low rating on the glycemic index (GI = 8), preventing rapid increases in blood sugar. Xylitol can also help prevent sugar cravings. For these reasons, xylitol has been used for many years as a sweetener for people with diabetes. I’ve said it before, but we would all be a lot healthier if we ate like diabetics.

This is the brand that I use. XyloBrit, xylitol from birch trees.

Bone Density

Results of a Finnish study found that xylitol prevents bone weakening and actually improved bone density in rats. Speculating that it does this by enhancing the ability of the intestines to absorb calcium from our diets. These findings suggest that xylitol could potentially become a treatment for osteoporosis.

In another study conducted in Finland in 2008 that aimed to evaluate whether dietary xylitol supplementation could protect against the changes is bone metabolism in early stages of type 2 collagen-induced arthritis. The study found that dietary xylitol did seem to offer protection for this condition.

A Sugar That Can Prevent Cavities!

We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth right? Well not xylitol. Many of the studies on xylitol have been focused on it’s positive effect on dental hygiene. Sugar causes an acidic environment in our mouths, which attacks the enamel of our teeth, leading to cavities. Bacteria love sugar, and in the mouth they can cause gum disease and plaque.

Xylitol has the opposite effect of sugar. It promotes an alkaline environment, which helps protect tooth enamel and remineralise the teeth, plus it kills bacteria! Bacteria can easily digest 6 carbon molecules such as sugar, fructose, glucose and sorbitol. Xylitol is a 5 carbon moelcule, which bacteria can’t digest, so they die. Chewing gum containing 1g of  xylitol after meals helps protect teeth. Be sure the gum uses xylitol as it’s only sweetener if you want the tooth protecting benefit, Spry brand gum and mints are a good choice. Xylitol is also available in toothpaste and mouthwash online.

Asthma, Candida, Ear, Nose And Throat

As xylitol can kill and reduce bacteria, it has been used to control inner ear infections.

When used as a nasal spray, xylitol can help reduce bacteria leading to sinus infections. This may also be useful for asthma sufferers, as asthma attacks can be triggered by pollutants and irritants that get into the body through the nasal passage.

Xylitol can also be helpful in preventing the growth of candida.

Reverse Wrinkles With Xylitol

I mentioned glycation above with regards to internal effects of  high sugar and/or fructose consumption. Well, externally glycation shows up as wrinkles. As protein fibres in the skin are attacked by sugar, they become crosslinked and form wrinkles. This effect is worsened by the natural decline in collagen production. Once again xylitol shows potential.

According to two studies, one in 2000 and a follow up in 2005, short term xylitol supplementation increased the production of collagen in rats (I know, more rat studies). Samples taken of the skin showed an increase in skin thickness by stimulating collagen production. Xylitol was also shown to prevent age-related breakdown of existing collagen, while stopping the age-related decrease of new collagen. Obviously longer term studies would give a better indication, but if you’re going to use xylitol anyway, it’s a very positive side effect.

Xylitol Stimulates Production Of A Natural, Powerful Antioxidant

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant, which the body produces naturally. It helps to recycle antioxidants in our bodies to fight free radicals, boost the immune system and control inflammation. Unfortunately it’s production declines with age, stress, poor diet and too many toxins. Xylitol helps to maintain and restore glutathione levels.

Birch trees

Taste And Possible Side Effects

Xylitol looks and tastes just like sugar, and has no aftertaste unlike stevia (another natural sugar substitute). It can be used the same way you would use regular sugar, in hot or cold drinks, on oatmeal, and for baking. Yeast can not feed on xylitol, so if using in a recipe with yeast, it won’t rise.

While xylitol offers many positive health benefits, it’s best to start with a small amount, and allow your body to adapt to it. Xylitol is classed as a sugar alcohol, which can have a laxative effect if excessively consumed. So it would be best to start will a low level and gradually increase over a period of time. I personally just add a teaspoon to my oatmeal in the morning, as you don’t need huge quantities of it, about 4 grams, which would be 1 teaspoon.

Effect On Dogs

It’s important to note that xylitol is toxic to dogs. It causes a rapid drop in blood sugar in dogs, and possible seizures. So please do not give xylitol to yours or anybody else’s dog. But don’t let that put you off xylitol as many other “people” foods are toxic to dogs and potentially fatal, such as avocado, onion, beer, caffeine (of which there is no antidote), dairy, chocolate, raisins, salt…the list goes on.

Sources Of Xylitol Available

Originally all xylitol available on the market came from birch trees. However scientists in China found a way to extract xylitol from corn. So today the two sources of xylitol available are from birch and corn. While corn derived xylitol should work just as well in theory, the problem is that corn is quite often genetically modified. For this reason, I only use birch xylitol.

In Ireland the two main brands available are XyloBrit ( from birch) and Perfect Sweet (from corn). In the States, I think Smart Sweet may be the only birch variety available.

So as you can see, xylitol offers some great health benefits and can easily be added to your diet. As always, let me know you thoughts.

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