Does the thought of sugar bring up scary visions of diabetes or punishing hours at the gym, working off those extra calories? Erythritol could be just what you need to add a little sweetness to your dessert, without piling on the calories. This natural sweetener is a sugar alcohol or polyol which occurs naturally in fruits such as watermelons and pears as well as certain fermented foods. Sugar alcohols are compounds with a chemical formula that blends alcohol molecules and sugar molecules but despite their name, they don’t contain ethanol. So, you don’t have to worry about getting intoxicated by having them.1
Erythritol is 70–80% as sweet as table sugar and it works well as a sweetener in a variety of foods such as diet drinks, mints, chewing gum, and chocolate. So, what does using erythritol actually mean for your health? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons. Erythritol:
1. Has Practically Zero Calories
Erythritol has just 6 percent of the calories found in sugar but offers almost 70 percent of its sweetness.
The energy supplied by erythritol is less than 0.2 calories per gram. This is such a low count that it is considered to be a zero calorie sweetener.2 In comparison, table sugar gives you a whopping 4 calories per gram.3 In fact, erythritol has a much lower calorie value than even other polyol sweeteners like sorbitol which has 2.6 calories per gram, xylitol which has 2.4, or maltitol which has 2.1.4
2. Does Not Affect Insulin Or Blood Sugar
One of the main reasons why people choose artificial sweeteners is to avoid increasing their blood sugar. Erythritol is a good bet in that case. One study found that having 0.3 g of erythritol per kg of body weight did not increase levels of glucose or insulin. And of course, it should come as no surprise that having the same amount of glucose caused a rapid spike in insulin and glucose levels within half an hour.5
3. Has An Antioxidant Effect
Antioxidants help negate the harmful effects of free radicals which are produced both through exposure to external oxidant substances and during the process of converting food into energy by the body. Research has established that erythritol has antioxidant properties and is effective at scavenging certain kinds of free radicals. In fact, an animal study even found that that the antioxidant properties of erythritol may help protect against vascular damage caused by high blood sugar levels.6
4. Does Not Cause Cavities
Here’s another sweet advantage that erythritol has over sugar – it doesn’t cause cavities! This sugar alcohol is not used by cavity-causing bacteria like Mutans streptococci to form plaque or to produce teeth-destroying acid. An animal study found that subjects infected with oral pathogens had a significantly lower caries score when their diet contained erythritol or chocolate sweetened with erythritol when compared to subjects that had sugar or chocolate sweetened with sugar.7
5. Is Less Likely Than Other Sugar Alcohols To Cause An Upset Stomach
Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol are extensively used as a replacement for sugar in many foods. However, they do have a drawback. They can cause diarrhea and an upset stomach in some people because the sugars are poorly absorbed by our digestive tract. The sugars that are left behind in the intestine are fermented by the gut bacteria and cause gas and other stomach issues.
But erythritol is tolerated much better by our body because it is better absorbed than these sugars. For instance, when one study compared the effect of having 45 gm of sucrose (table sugar) with that of 50 gm xylitol, it was found that xylitol significantly increased bloating, nausea, loose and frequent stools, colic and a rumbling tummy. In contrast, 50 gm of erythritol only caused nausea and a rumbling tummy. Also, at a lower dose of 35 gm erythritol caused no symptoms while xylitol still caused watery and frequent stools.8 So if you’re toying with the idea of a natural sweetener, erythritol is most likely to agree with your stomach.
6. But High Doses – 50 GM For Adults – May Cause Digestive Problems
As we just saw, a high dose of 50 gm of erythritol can cause symptoms like nausea and a rumbling tummy in adults. Another study found that 20 gm of erythritol can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal symptoms in children between the ages of 4 to 6. Erythritol appears to be well tolerated without causing any side effects at 0.73 g per kg of body weight.9 Your best bet is to have it in moderation.
7. May Cause An Allergic Reaction In Some
Though it’s rare, some people have been found to break out in hives as a result of an allergic reaction to erythritol.10 There have also been reports of digestive reactions like bloating, gas, and nausea on consuming erythritol among people allergic to FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), a group of sugars that are poorly absorbed by our intestines. If you’ve noticed an allergic reaction when you consume something with erythritol, it is necessary to weigh it as a potential trigger.
8. Is Still Considered A Biomarker For Weight Gain
A study that looked at how the transition to college impacts weight and diet found something interesting. Those who went on to gain abdominal fat, fat, and weight over the course of 9 months had elevated erythritol at the beginning of the year when compared to those who managed to keep their weight stable. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that erythritol causes weight gain. For instance, the researchers pointed out that glucose is metabolized into erythritol in the body and this could be one explanation for the link between it and weight gain risk. More research is needed to check if erythritol has a direct link to weight gain risk.11
Incidentally, while erythritol is practically zero calorie and does not increase sugar levels, it could still pose some long-term weight gain risks. Research already shows that instead of helping with weight loss, artificial sweeteners may even lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems in the long run.12 When we cut out what we deem sinful ingredients from food, there’s a natural tendency to “reward” ourselves by overeating or eating larger portions. This tends to have implications long term and could apply as much to foods with natural sweeteners as well. So exercise portion control and stay focused on your weight goals even when you use erythritol.
|↑1||What are sugar alcohols?. Michigan State University.|
|↑2||COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 2008/100/EC of 28 October 2008 amending Council Directive 90/496/EEC on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs as regards recommended daily allowances, energy conversion factors and definitions. Official Journal of the European Union.|
|↑3||Sugar 101. American Heart Association.|
|↑4||Sugar Alcohols Fact Sheet. International Food Information Council Foundation.|
|↑5||Noda, K., K. Nakayama, and T. Oku. “Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects.” European journal of clinical nutrition 48, no. 4 (1994): 286-292.|
|↑6||den Hartog, Gertjan JM, Agnes W. Boots, Aline Adam-Perrot, Fred Brouns, Inge WCM Verkooijen, Antje R. Weseler, Guido RMM Haenen, and Aalt Bast. “Erythritol is a sweet antioxidant.” Nutrition 26, no. 4 (2010): 449-458.|
|↑7||Kawanabe, J., M. Hirasawa, T. Takeuchi, T. Oda, and T. Ikeda. “Noncariogenicity of erythritol as a substrate.” Caries Research 26, no. 5 (1992): 358-362.|
|↑8||Storey, D., A. Lee, F. Bornet, and F. J. P. H. Brouns. “Gastrointestinal tolerance of erythritol and xylitol ingested in a liquid.” European journal of clinical nutrition 61, no. 3 (2007): 349-354.|
|↑9||Jacqz-Aigrain, E., B. Kassai, C. Cornu, J. M. Cazaubiel, B. Housez, M. Cazaubiel, J. M. Prével, M. Bell, A. Boileau, and P. De Cock. “Gastrointestinal tolerance of erythritol-containing beverage in young children: a double-blind, randomised controlled trial.” European journal of clinical nutrition 69, no. 6 (2015): 746-751.|
|↑10||Hino, Haruko, Shinomi Kasai, Naoko Hattori, and Kazutoshi Kenjo. “A case of allergic urticaria caused by erythritol.” The Journal of Dermatology 27, no. 3 (2000): 163-165.|
|↑11||Hootman, Katie C., Jean-Pierre Trezzi, Lisa Kraemer, Lindsay S. Burwell, Xiangyi Dong, Kristin A. Guertin, Christian Jaeger, Patrick J. Stover, Karsten Hiller, and Patricia A. Cassano. “Erythritol is a pentose-phosphate pathway metabolite and associated with adiposity gain in young adults.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 21 (2017): E4233-E4240.|
|↑12||Yang, Qing. “Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 83, no. 2 (2010): 101.|