Erythritol and diabetes

If you have diabetes, it’s important to manage your blood sugar. Erythritol is said to add sweetness to foods and beverages without adding calories, spiking blood sugar, or causing tooth decay. Read on to learn if erythritol is too good to be true — or if it lives up to the hype.

What are the benefits of erythritol?

Benefits

  1. Erythritol is just as sweet as sugar.
  2. Erythritol has fewer calories than sugar.
  3. Unlike other sweeteners, it doesn’t cause tooth decay.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, but it doesn’t actually contain sugar (sucrose) or alcohol (ethanol). Sugar alcohols are reduced-calorie sweeteners found in everything from chewing gum to flavored water. Erythritol is almost as sweet as sugar and has practically no calories.

Erythritol is found naturally in some fruits, such as melons, grapes, and pears. It’s also found in some fermented foods. When erythritol is used in sugar-free foods and beverages, it’s most likely made from fermented corn.

Erythritol has several advantages, including:

  • tastes like sugar
  • has fewer calories than sugar
  • doesn’t have carbohydrates
  • doesn’t spike blood sugar
  • doesn’t cause tooth decay

Erythritol is available in granulated and powder forms. It’s also found in other reduced-calorie sweetener blends, such as Truvia.

If you use other sweeteners in addition to erythritol, you may not experience the full range of benefits. For example, this zero carbohydrate claim only applies to erythritol.

How does diabetes impact blood sugar?

Normally, your body breaks down the sugars and starches you eat into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose provides energy to your cells. Insulin is a hormone your body needs to send glucose from your bloodstream to your cells.

If you have diabetes, your body may not be able to produce or effectively use insulin. This can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Eating a diet high in sugar can drive these levels up even further.

If you eat a diet high in sugar, it can further impact this process. That’s where sweeteners such as erythritol come in.

What the research says

According to the American Diabetes Association, sugar alcohols don’t have as much effect on blood sugar as other carbohydrates. Still, you may be surprised to learn many sugar-free products contain carbohydrates and calories from other sources. These may cause your blood sugar to spike.

One small study found neither a single dose of erythritol nor a two-week daily regimen had a negative effect on blood sugar control.

Risks and warnings

Erythritol is only partially absorbed by your body, which is why it’s low in calories. A 1998 review of erythritol’s safety found the sweetener was well-tolerated and non-toxic, even at high doses.

Even so, some people are sensitive to erythritol and other sugar alcohols and may experience:

  • cramping
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • headache

Managing blood sugar is a process of trial and error. You’ll need to check your blood sugar daily. You’ll also need to have more advanced blood tests on a regular basis to check the status of your condition.

You should call your doctor if you have new or worsening symptoms. If your blood sugar levels spike too high or drop too low, you should seek immediate medical attention.

The bottom line

If you have diabetes, using erythritol in moderation is generally considered safe. If you’re sensitive to sugar alcohols, you shouldn’t eat erythritol.

Keep in mind that having diabetes doesn’t mean that you have to avoid sugar entirely. It can be part of your eating plan as long as you manage your total carbohydrate intake. Limit sugary foods to special occasions, and eat them in smaller portions.

Keep reading: Xylitol vs. erythritol: Which is the healthier sugar substitute? »