sugar substitutes

Many people are looking to sugar substitutes as alternatives to sugar, especially if they’re concerned about dental health, weight loss, or have diabetes.

Xylitol and erythritol are two you may want to consider. But which of these is the healthier choice?

The answer to this question isn't simple. So it's worth examining the topic in more detail.

What Are Sugar Substitutes?

Sugar substitutes are lower or noncaloric sweetener alternatives that are used instead of common table sugar. You can find them in many foods and beverages marketed as "sugar-free" or "diet."

Some of the widely used sugar substitutes are:

  • Artificial sweeteners: Name brand examples include Equal, Sweet’N Low, and Splenda.
  • Novel sweeteners: These are combinations of various types of sweeteners.
  • Sugar alcohols: Xylitol and erythritol are examples.

More About Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are reduced-calorie sweeteners.

Will They Get Me Drunk?
The name is certainly misleading, but sugar alcohols don’t contain any alcohol.

Despite the name, they contain no alcohol. These sweet alternatives can be helpful for weight loss. They have fewer calories and carbohydrates than sugar. But the Mayo Clinic explains that sugar substitutes aren't necessarily the secret to weight loss.

Sugar alcohols have other health benefits, discussed below. But in some people, they can cause digestive issues.

What Is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a natural substance found in fruits and vegetables, and it also naturally occurs in our bodies. With an equal sweetness, taste, and volume to sugar, it can be used in many of the same ways. It also has 40 percent fewer calories than sugar, according to the Life Extension Foundation.

Health Benefits of Xylitol

Xylitol for Diabetes

Cutting Calories
Xylitol has 40 percent fewer calories than sugar.

Xylitol may help people achieve more stable blood sugar levels, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food. It may also be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, according to a study by the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Xylitol for Oral Health

Regular use of xylitol has been found to cause cavity-forming bacteria to starve and die off by almost 75 percent, according to a study in the Iranian Journal of Microbiology. It also increases the flow of saliva and creates a more alkaline environment. According to the Journal of Dental Research, the number of times that you are exposed to xylitol throughout the day matters the most. To prevent cavities, the California Dental Association (CDA) recommends the use of xylitol-containing products three to five times daily, for a total intake of 5 grams.

Xylitol for Ear and Upper Respiratory Infections

Xylitol inhibits the growth of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, a major cause of middle ear infections and sinusitis. An analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration shows that children who consumed xylitol in gum, syrup, or lozenges twice a day reduced their risk of ear infections by 25 percent.

No long-term safety data exists for xylitol. But xylitol has been approved for safety by a number of agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, and the European Union’s Scientific Committee for Food.

What Is Erythritol?

This sweetener occurs naturally in many fruits, as well as in mushrooms and foods derived from fermentation, like wine, cheese, and soy sauce. It’s commonly used as a bulk sweetener in reduced-calorie foods, and has no aftertaste.

What sets it apart is that it has no calories and doesn’t seem to cause the same digestive problems as other sugar alcohols. But consuming it may lead to acid reflux and promote dehydration and a loss of electrolytes.

Health Benefits of Erythritol

Erythritol for Diabetes

A study in Acta Diabetologica determined that erythritol might be a preferred substitute for people with diabetes.

Erythritol for Oral Health

Like other sugar alcohols, erythritol doesn’t lead to tooth decay.

Erythritol as an Antioxidant

Researchers in a study in Nutrition found erythritol to act as a strong antioxidant with favorable effect on blood vessels.

So, Which One Is Healthier?

A study in Caries Research found that erythritol might be better for tooth health than xylitol. And compared to xylitol, erythritol can be fully absorbed by our bodies, causing less digestive distress. Plus, erythritol doesn’t raise blood sugar at all, while xylitol has a small impact.

Still, both xylitol and erythritol are considered safe for human consumption in relatively small doses, though they should be used in moderation. If you do choose to use them, it's best to discuss this decision with your doctor first and to monitor how your body reacts to these substances.