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HEALTHY MADE EASY
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Here’s What You Need to Know:

  • Erythritol is a sweetener that belongs to the same family as the common sweetener xylitol.
  • Erythritol is 60% less sweet and has 95% less calories than table sugar. 
  • Erythritol is well tolerated by the intestines and isn’t toxic to dogs, contrary to xylitol.   
  • A good sugar alternative is a sweetener based on erythritol and stevia. Look out for products containing this combination also.
  • Erythritol has other potential health benefits, like acting like helping to maintain blood flow in diabetics (preliminary findings).
  • Do not go overboard and consume within limits.

Erythritol is a sugar that is naturally found in small amounts in some fruits like watermelon, pear and grape. In its crystal form, erythritol looks exactly like sugar but has only about 60% of the sweetness of sugar.

The good thing about erythritol is that it has only about 5% of the calories of table sugar, making it a suitable sugar replacement.

Besides its sweetening power, erythritol also has interesting health properties like the ability to act like an antioxidant and improve blood circulation in diabetic patients (1).

Also, erythritol does not cause tooth decays because oral bacteria cannot act on them like they do on sugars (2).

What is Erythritol?

Erythritol is classified into a group of sweeteners known as sugar alcohols or polyol in that it consists of a sugar molecule that contains an alcohol group, very much like other common sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, etc.). Erythritol is in the same family as the other popular sugar replacer, xylitol.

On an industrial scale, xylitol is manufactured from corn starch. Corn starch is broken down into glucose which is then fermented by yeast-like fungi (3).

Advantage 1: Zero Calories

One gram of sugar contains 4 calories. Interestingly, erythritol has a caloric content per gram of only 0.2.

This is because erythritol is almost entirely absorbed into the blood stream and then excreted unchanged in the urine.

Therefore, this means that erythritol does not increase blood sugar levels following its consumption, unlike sugar, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetics (4).

From a labelling perspective, erythritol is regarded as a zero calorie sweetener in the EU, US and Japan. That is why you will find erythritol listed in zero calorie products. Some countries, like Canada, adhere to 0.2 cal/g.

Advantage 2: Erythritol is Easier on the Intestines

A major downside of sugar alcohols in general, like xylitol and maltitol, is their ability to cause intestinal upsets in high amounts. This is because of their low speed of absorption at the intestines. Bacteria present in the intestines are able to break them down and give rise to gases and tummy upsets (5).

Erythritol does not give such problems because is rapidly absorbed.

Feeding studies found erythritol to be well tolerated when consumed in doses of up to 0.8g/ kg bodyweight in one sitting. In contrast, other sugar alcohols causes tummy upsets at much lower doses.

In a study that compared xylitol and erythritol it was found that 35g of xylitol gave rise to watery faeces. Equal amounts of erythritol gave no such problems. Erythritol only gave problems when 50 g was taken in, namely rumbling tummy and nausea. At 50g xylitol already makes you run to the toilet (6).

Advantage 3: Erythritol is Safe

Erythritol has GRAS (Generally Accepted as Safe) status in the US and is widely permitted in the EU for use in foods (7). The only side effect seen in humans was mainly minor digestive problems in some people at high levels of consumption.

Animal studies involving long term and high dose feeding showed no negative effects.

Where To Find and How To Use?

Erythritol by itself

Look out for erythritol by itself but keep in mind that erythritol is not a 1:1 replacement for sugar, which means that you will have to add a little more than a teaspoon of erythritol crystals to achieve the sweetness of 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Erythritol works great in hot beverages but some additional stirring is needed when used in cold beverages. Interestingly, you will find that erythritol has a mild cooling effect upon dissolution, due to its negative energy of dissolution, which comes in handy during warm summers. 

However, we have seen that Erythritol does not taste great on its own. That is why it is very often blended with other sweeteners like stevia (see below).

Stevia-Erythritol blends

Increasingly common now are stevia-erythritol blends. The latter can be a 1:1 replacement for sugar because of the sweetness boost from stevia.

Stevia, which is usually known to leave an aftertaste in higher amounts does not seem to do so when used in combination with erythritol. These two sweeteners thus complement one another very well.

The stevia-erythritol blend is common in beverage products like zero-calorie sparkling drinks and hot chocolate mixes.

 

About the Author

Veeraj Goyaram

MSc (Med) Exer. Sci (UCT) cum laude, BSc (Hons) Biology.

Veeraj is an exercise and nutritional scientist by training and profession. He is passion revolves around researching and developing nutritional products for optimal health and performance, with a particular interest in sports, child and diabetic nutrition products. Veeraj was previously a graduate student at the University of Cape Town, where he examined how exercise and nutrition influence the function of genes in muscle. His research was published in renowned scientific journals and medical textbooks on Diabetes and Exercise (PubMed listing). Veeraj keeps healthy by regularly lifting weights and takes daily walks.

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