Xylitol: Everything You Need to Know
Learn about benefits, uses, and side effects of xylitol

Xylitol is a popular sugar substitute that has fewer calories than table sugar. Learn about benefits, uses, and side effects of xylitol.

What is xylitol?

Xylitol is categorized as a sugar alcohol (also called polyol) because it has a molecular structure that is comparable to both sugar and alcohol despite being neither. It is a type of fiber-containing, low-digestible carbohydrate.

Xylitol is produced in your body through the metabolism of a sugar xylose, a sugar that your digestive microbes cannot break down. It can also be synthesized in a laboratory from xylose. Xylose occurs naturally in the bark of birch trees, corn cobs, various fruits (plums, strawberries), and vegetables (cauliflower and pumpkin). 

Xylitol is naturally sweet and has fewer calories than cane sugar, which is why it is often used as a non-sugar sweetener.

7 health benefits of xylitol

1. Reduces oral bacteria

Xylitol has been shown to have promising results in preventing dental cavities, and both the American Dental Association and the FDA have recognized xylitol to be helpful for oral health

Unlike sugar, xylitol is not metabolized in the mouth to acids that cause tooth decay. Instead, it reduces plaque formation and the risk of tooth enamel erosion. Xylitol can also reduce gingivitis (inflammation of gums) by lowering inflammation and inhibiting oral bacteria (Streptococcus mutans). 

Xylitol is generally considered safe during pregnancy. In fact, chewing xylitol gum lowers the oral bacterial load and reduces the transfer of mutant streptococci to babies throughout pregnancy and after delivery.

2. Good for people with diabetes

Xylitol is structurally different from sucrose. Unlike sugar, xylitol is absorbed slowly and incompletely in the small intestine. This makes it and other sugar alcohols beneficial for people with diabetes. The absorbed xylitol is readily utilized for energy production and has a low glycemic index level, which means it does not spike blood sugar levels. This reduces the need for insulin.

3. Helps with weight loss

Xylitol is often used in place of sugar because it contains 40% fewer calories. A teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories, while a teaspoon of xylitol contains only 9.6 calories. Due to the lower calorie content, xylitol can be helpful if you are trying to lose weight.

4. Prevents ear infections

Xylitol in chewing gum may prevent middle ear infections (otitis media) in children. 

Otitis medium is a common bacterial infection. The two most common bacteria that cause middle ear infections and sinusitis are Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. Xylitol reduces the bacterial load of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which enhances the effect of antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, against the bacteria.

5. Boosts collagen

Xylitol stimulates collagen formation, which has been shown to improve skin elasticity and help prevent premature wrinkles.

6. Antioxidant properties

Xylitol is said to have antioxidant-inducing effects, which reduce inflammation in the body and help fight disease.

7. Prevents osteoporosis

Xylitol prevents osteoporosis because it aids calcium absorption, resulting in increased bone density and mineral content.

How is xylitol used?

  • Sugar replacement: Sucrose has about 4 calories per gram, but xylitol has just 2.4 calories per gram. Despite being lower in calories, xylitol has the same sweetness as sugar. Because most sugar alcohols are not as sweet as sugar, xylitol is mostly preferred as a sugar substitute.
  • Sauces and condiments: Sauces and condiments tend to be fairly high in sugar; for example, a tablespoon of ketchup can have 4.1 grams of sugar. Xylitol is a sugar-free substitute that can be used to sweeten such products instead.
  • Baking: Although it does not brown like conventional sugar, xylitol can be used cup for cup as a sugar substitute in baking because it retains its sweetness after being exposed to high temperatures.
  • Chewing gum and candy: Because of its pleasant cooling effect, xylitol is extensively utilized as a sugar alternative in chewing gum. 
  • Pharmaceuticals: Xylitol is sometimes added to medications to sweeten the flavor without sugar.
  • Dental care: Xylitol is found in dental care products, such as mouthwashes and toothpaste. Xylitol supports oral health by limiting the buildup of bacteria and reducing the risk of dental cavities.
  • Skin and hair care: Xylitol is used in skin care products because it has anti-aging benefits and can help improve moisture retention.

QUESTION

According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Does xylitol cause side effects?

Although xylitol is regarded as safe even when consumed in large quantities, it can lead to the following complications:

  • Gastrointestinal issues: When ingested in excessive amounts (40 grams of xylitol a day), xylitol may cause gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Sugar alcohols like xylitol can have a laxative effect, which can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Raised blood sugar levels: Excessive consumption of xylitol can affect blood sugar levels, especially in people with type I diabetes.
  • Allergic reactions: Xylitol can cause allergic reactions in certain people, such as hives, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties. In extreme cases, it can even lead to shock or death.

How much xylitol is considered safe?

  • Ear infections: Oral administration of xylitol in children may be used to reduce the incidence of ear infections. The total daily dosages are 8.4 to 10 grams of xylitol in the form of chewing gum, lozenges, or syrup, which is administered in 5 split doses after meals.
  • Cavity prevention: Xylitol may be used to prevent cavities in both adults and children. Typical dosages range from 7 to 20 grams per day, split into 3-5 doses, and are commonly administered in the form of candies or chewing gum. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry supports the use of xylitol, but studies indicate that you should not use xylitol gum more than 3-5 times a day.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/24/2022
References
Image Source: Getty image

WebMD. Xylitol - Uses, Side Effects, and More. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-996/xylitol

Park E, Na HS, Kim SM, Wallet S, Cha S, Chung J. Xylitol, an anticaries agent, exhibits potent inhibition of inflammatory responses in human THP-1-derived macrophages infected with Porphyromonas gingivalis. J Periodontol. 2014;85(6):e212-e223. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4775082/