What Is sugar?
There are plenty of sweeteners on the market. Sugar alternatives are everywhere, whether they come in pink, yellow, or green packets.
Erythritol is trying to make a name for itself among those sweeteners. It's grown in popularity in the last several years, so many people wonder how it compares to good, old-fashioned sugar.
It sounds like a silly question, but sugar is more than the sweet white powder in your cupboard.
Types of sugar. Sugar is a group of carbohydrates generally broken into two subgroups and four types. Carbohydrates are molecules you use for energy in your daily life.
The first subgroup of sugar is monosaccharides. These sugars are "simple" sugars because they are made of only one molecule.
The two most common types of monosaccharides are glucose and fructose. These sugar molecules form the foundation for a lot of the sugar you eat.
The second subgroup of sugar is disaccharides. Disaccharides are made of two monosaccharides.
The other major disaccharide is lactose. It's made of glucose and another monosaccharide called galactose.
The sugar you have in your pantry is made of one glucose and one sucrose (table sugar) molecule.
What does it all mean? Some manufacturers would have you believe that natural sugar is better than table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, but no matter where it's from, sugar raises your blood sugar.
Sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and erythritol all come from natural sources. The battle isn't between natural vs. processed sugar. The real enemy is added sugar.
Most added sugars are either sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup. Manufacturers add sugar to sweeten the product and preserve the texture, but added sugar adds calories.
You'll often see high-fructose corn syrup because it's cheap and easy to make. It's been under attack for many years, but it's not the sole culprit. Too much sugar overall is the problem.
Added sugars, addiction, and health problems. Humans love sweet treats. Sugar triggers the reward center in your brain, releasing positive neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Since processed foods are packed with added sugar, your brain's reward center gets over-rewarded. This property of processed foods is what makes junk foods addictive.
Getting your daily sugar intake from fresh fruit is healthy because you get many nutrients from the fruit. Sugar from soda and candy, in contrast, keeps your body from getting the necessary nutrients and gives your body only sugar and empty calories.
In many cases, junk food causes you to get way more sugar than your body needs. Going above your recommended sugar intake can lead to many health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Fatty liver disease
- Weight gain
The health risks of added sugar outweigh most of the benefits, so many manufacturers are looking for substitutes. There have been many alternative sweeteners, but erythritol is one that is growing in popularity.
What Is erythritol?
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol. It's not alcoholic, but it's made through a fermenting process that gives it a similar chemical structure to alcohol.
Zero-calorie sweetener. Erythritol stands out above other artificial sweeteners because of its calorie-sweetness ratio. It has a tiny amount of calories while offering the same sweetness found in other sweeteners.
Manufacturers use erythritol mainly as a finishing product. It helps finalize the product's taste, texture, and appearance without affecting the nutritional qualities.
Erythritol hasn't become popular as a commercial sweetener until recently, though it's been around for many decades.
Teeth-saver. You were probably taught from a young age that candy causes cavities. Luckily, sugar alcohols like erythritol are sweet like sugar but don't lead to tooth decay.
One study showed that erythritol might even protect teeth. Children who ate candy containing erythritol for 3 years had less plaque, plaque acetic acid, and propionic acid.
This unique property makes erythritol a great addition to dental care products. It can provide flavor and texture to products like toothpaste without adding any sugar.
No impact on blood sugar. Sugar raises your blood sugar. Raising blood sugar then contributes to many of the aforementioned health risks.
Erythritol, though, doesn't impact blood sugar. It earned a zero on the glycemic index, making it a great alternative to sugar.
No gut problems. Sugar alcohols are notorious for upsetting people's stomachs. Whether it's gas or diarrhea, many sugar alcohols have earned a bad reputation.
Other sugar alcohol molecules are big and reach the liver intact, leading to bloating. However, erythritol doesn't due to its small size.
The downside. The benefits of erythritol seem too good to be true. It outranks traditional sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.
One of the biggest reasons erythritol hasn't caught on is the production process. It's naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables but in small amounts, making it difficult to cultivate at a large scale.
Erythritol production is more expensive than other sugar alcohols and sugar. Until production processes are cheaper, mass production of erythritol will be lacking.
Erythritol is also not quite as sweet as sugar. It's about 60% to 80% as sweet as sugar, so you may have to adjust some of your favorite dessert recipes if you use it.
Erythritol vs. sugar
If you're looking at the health benefits, erythritol has sugar beat. Fewer calories per gram allow you to eat more sweet treats than you normally could without the weight gain.
Since erythritol doesn't affect your blood sugar, you're less likely to get the health conditions most often caused by too much sugar, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Erythritol is more expensive than sugar since it's still new. This means you can have more sweet treats if you're willing to pay more.
If you're worried about sugar but can't turn down some pastries, try making them with erythritol!
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology: "Erythritol as sweetener—wherefrom and whereto?"
Frontiers in Bioscience, Landmark: "Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Are certain types of sugars healthier than others?" "The sweet danger of sugar."
Harvard University: "Natural and Added Sugars: Two Sides of the Same Coin."
Penn Today: "The ins and outs of sugar alcohol."
Yale New Haven Hospital: "Eat Any Sugar Alcohol Lately?"
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