Here’s What You Need to Know:
- Xylitol is a very popular sugar replacer that is as sweet as sugar.
- Xylitol is often believed to be calorie-free but in reality it has only 40% less calories than sugar.
- Xylitol in excess can upset your tummy.
- Xylitol is also toxic to dog and potentially other animals as well.
- There are safer alternatives to xylitol, namely stevia and erythritol-stevia combinations.
Xylitol is a popular sweetener offered as a sugar-replacer to diabetics and anyone seeking a healthier sweetener alternative for health reasons.
Xylitol is the darling of sugar replacers and is mainly used on its own in the form of white crystals. Xylitol also found its way gradually in a number of food and beverage products like low-calorie or sugar-free confectioneries, soft drinks, mints and ice-cream.
The Pros of Xylitol
The great thing about xylitol is that it is as sweet as sugar and can thus be used as a 1:1 sugar replacer, and has less calories than sugar.
Xylitol is also advantageous because it does not increase blood sugar level significantly following consumption.
Thus, xylitol has a low glycaemic index (GI), a characteristic that makes it ideal for diabetics (1).
□ GI of xylitol: 13
□ GI of sugar: 65
□ GI of glucose: 100There are a few facts that xylitol users need to remember that are often not emphasised enough.
Fact #1: Excess Xylitol Can Cause Intestinal Distress.
Xylitol takes time to be absorbed into the bloodstream and therefore a lot remains in the intestines before being absorbed. This can give digestive distress if one is not used to consume this sweetener or consumed in high amounts (4).
The xylitol that remains in the intestines attracts water and causes diarhoea and loose stools.
Furthermore, some of the xylitol is fermented by bacteria residing in the intestines, leading to the production of gas and bloating.
What is a safe dosage?
Any amount above 40-50g consumed in a day (total intake) can give digestive issues.
In terms of a dose taken at once, studies have found that that anything above 20g taken at once can give gastro-intestinal distress (4). This is equivalent to about 5 teaspoons of xylitol in pure crystalline form.
But the good news is that the body adapts fairly well to xylitol consumption. It is best to begin with smaller amounts if you are starting to switch to xylitol.
How much xylitol do products contain?
The possibility of an overdose is higher when consuming xylitol from pure crystalline sources and perhaps beverages, rather than sweets, mints and chewing gums.
□ 1 teaspoon of powdered xylitol: 4 grams of xylitol.
□ 1 chewing gum or mint: 0.3g of xylitol (varies according to product).
□ 100g sugar-free ice cream: 6.8g xylitol.
For new users, it is always a good idea to read labels to understand how much xylitol you may be ingesting.
Fact #2: Xylitol is Toxic to Dogs
The increased marketing and use of xylitol as a sweetener in recent years has led to increased risk of pet exposure to this agent.
Xylitol is harmful to dogs and is toxic even in small amounts. When xylitol is accidentally ingested, the dog’s body respond by secreting a massive amount of insulin (5).
As you know, insulin is the hormone that decreases blood sugar levels. The result of this massive increase in insulin is abnormally low blood sugar level (hypoglycaemia) which can be fatal. Also, xylitol causes damage to liver cells, leading to liver failure.
The dose that is harmful to dogs is extremely low. Values between 0.03 to 0.1g xylitol/ kilogram of bodyweight of animal have been reported as toxic.
With regard to toxicity to other pet animals, like cats, there isn’t much research done on this topic but vet advise to advise extreme caution.
In 2015 a case was reported in Hermanus, Cape Town of 30 Cape Sugarbirds dropping dead shortly after having ingested water containing xylitol (6).
We would advise to refrain from feeding xylitol to any other pet animals.
□ If you are a xylitol user who counts calories, make sure to factor in the fact that xylitol has 2.4 calories per gram.
□ If you are new to xylitol proceed with caution and start with a low dosage.
□ Don’t give xylitol to pets. Make sure to spread this information.
□ If you want a zero calorie alternative to xylitol that belongs to the same family consider erythritol. We wrote an article on erythritol (here).
About the Author
Veeraj Goyaram, MSc (Med) Exer. Sci (UCT) cum laude, BSc (Hons) Biology.
Veeraj’s 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 based as a graduate student at the University of Cape Town, where he examined the effect of exercise and nutrition on 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 taking daily walks.