Xylitol and stevia are both considered artificial sweeteners, although they occur naturally in nature. As neither contain any actual sugar, they’re helpful alternatives for people who have to monitor their sugar intake, such as people with diabetes or those who are trying to lose weight.
What Is Stevia?
Stevia is derived from Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to South America that’s been used there for centuries to sweeten teas and make medicines go down easier.
But the kind you’ll find in stores involves a good amount of processing to make it table ready. It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, so it is calorie-free. And the difference between the two is even more apparent when you use them for baking: Stevia lacks sugar’s bulk and baking brings out its natural licorice flavor.
It can be purchased or found in coffee houses in green packets as the name brands Stevia in the Raw, Sweet Leaf, Rebiana, Enliten, and Erylite Stevia. It’s also the main sweetener in Coca-Cola’s Truvia and Pepsi’s PureVia.
What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that’s used in gums, candies, toothpaste, and other items. It’s also sold in higher concentrations in oral health-related products, with a focus on preventing tooth decay.
Xylitol is extracted from various fruits and vegetables, although modern production of it primarily comes from corn cobs. It’s nearly identical to sugar in sweetness, but it contains a third of the calories, which means it is not calorie-free.
What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Stevia?
The major benefit of both stevia and xylitol is as a sweetener for people with diabetes, as they have to closely monitor their blood sugar and insulin levels.
Since they don’t contain sugar, xylitol and stevia don’t require insulin to be processed through the body.
There’s also some evidence that stevia has natural hypoglycemic properties and can help insulin secretion in people with type 2 diabetes by directly acting on beta cells. Still, medical researchers note that the combination of stevia and blood sugar-lowering medications could actually cause blood sugar levels to drop too far.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved crude stevia as a food additive, citing concerns over its effects on the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels, as well as possible negative effects on the reproductive, renal, and cardiovascular systems.
Animal studies have linked high amounts of stevia with decreased fertility and potential genetic mutations in offspring. Still, the FDA has approved stevia-containing sweeteners for commercial use, so long as they’re labeled as a dietary supplement.
After reviewing the scientific evidence, the World Health Organization determined that the acceptable daily intake of stevia is 4 mg per kilogram of a person’s body weight. For example, an average American man who weighs 195.5 pounds (or 88.7 kilograms) can safely consume 0.35 grams of stevia per day.
What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Xylitol?
Like stevia, xylitol is a good sweetener option, though it will have a small effect on blood sugar since it does contain some carbohydrate.
Some people report having gastrointestinal problems when consuming xylitol. These are usually diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and gas. They typically occur at doses of 100 grams or more a day, which is why the general consensus is that 50 grams a day or less is best.
Xylitol, however, has been shown to have added benefits for a person’s teeth, namely preventing tooth decay. The California Dental Association says that xylitol has been proven to prevent teeth decay by reducing cavities and strengthening tooth enamel as well.
It’s also been shown to be effective at preventing cavity-causing bacteria, and is being considered as a potential protective treatment against other infections, such as the common flu.
So Which Is Best for Me, Stevia or Xylitol?
To see which is best for you, talk to your doctor. There may be some concerns, especially if you’re already taking medicine to help regulate your blood sugar. But overall, both sweeteners haven’t shown any long-term adverse health effects.