Is the Sweetener Erythritol Safe to Use?

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD on April 17, 2017Written by Natalie Silver on April 17, 2017

Overview

Sweet foods and beverages can be an irresistible treat for many. But if you have diabetes or prediabetes and you’re trying to limit sugar in your diet, you might be looking for an alternative sweetener. Many sugar substitutes are available. One option is erythritol.

Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol that’s been approved for use in the United States since 2001. It occurs naturally in some foods, including:

  • fruits, such as watermelons, pears, and grapes
  • mushrooms
  • fermented foods, such as cheese and soy sauce
  • fermented beverages, such as beer and wine

When manufactured, erythritol is created through the fermentation of glucose. After this process, it’s purified, crystalized, and dried to its final form, which is a white, crystalline powder. The final product is about 60 percent to 70 percent as sweet as traditional sugar.

You can use erythritol as a sugar substitute in coffee, tea, and some baked goods. You’ll also find it in some prepackaged products, including certain soft drinks, baked goods, candy, and chewing gum.

Safety of erythritol

Erythritol has been subject to many research studies and much scrutiny from government organizations. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed it “generally recognized as safe,” the substance is exempt from premarket approval requirements.

The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food has declared erythritol acceptable as a food additive. It’s also approved the use of erythritol as an additive in nonalcoholic beverages, up to a concentration level of 1.6 percent.

Eating too much erythritol can cause digestive issues, such as diarrhea and bloating. However, according to a study in the journal Nutrafoods, erythritol is easier to digest than other sugar alcohols. Your urine absorbs and expels 90 percent of it.

Benefits of using erythritol

Like other types of sugar alcohols, erythritol can provide sweetness and bulk to foods with fewer calories than sugar. It also:

  • provides moisture
  • prevents discoloration, such as browning
  • adds a cool sensation to foods

Because erythritol contains fewer calories, using it as a sugar substitute might help you manage your weight. Also, erythritol doesn’t raise your blood glucose levels like sugar does. So using it as an alternative sweetener can help you control your blood glucose levels. This is important for managing prediabetes and diabetes.

Erythritol has other potential benefits as well. Unlike sugar, erythritol hasn’t been shown to cause tooth decay. In fact, it might have anticariogenic properties, which help prevent tooth decay. It might also have antioxidant properties that help protect against vascular damage caused by hyperglycemia.

Tips for using erythritol

You can use erythritol to sweeten beverages, such as tea or coffee. You can also use it in baking or cooking.

It’s best to look for recipes that call for erythritol specifically. Because erythritol has different properties from sugar, it might not have the same effect in recipes. It can also leave your mouth feeling cool, so some flavors might not work well with it.

If you do decide to substitute erythritol in a recipe that calls for sugar, it might take some trial and error to achieve the desired results. For example, you might have to use up to 25 percent more erythritol than sugar to achieve the same level of sweetness.

You can also combine erythritol with sugar to lower the amount of sugar in a recipe instead of eliminating it entirely.

The takeaway

Incorporating erythritol in your diet might help you manage your weight or blood sugar levels. It might also be a good sweetener to use in lieu of sugar to help prevent tooth decay. Its known side effects are minimal. While it can cause digestive unrest, it appears to cause fewer digestive issues than other sugar alcohols.

If you use erythritol in place of sugar, keep in mind that products containing erythritol may still have carbohydrates and fat from other ingredients. Be sure to factor the total carbohydrates or calories into your daily diet, just as you would with an item containing sugar. This is true even if the food you’re eating is labeled “sugar-free.”

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