The -itol family. A strange sugar substitute that gets its own listing on the nutrition data on a food label, often surprising those who are used to looking at labels, but not used to seeing those terms. Anything in that -itol family is an alcohol, and a sugar alcohol specifically if we consider xylitol, erythritol, malitol, sorbitol as the primary sugar alcohols used as sweeteners, we can see differences in their chemical composition that can have different impact on our body.
Xylitol has been highly regarded as a healthy sugar alcohol, exhiibiting properties that allow it to actually assist the health of the teeth and gums by providing a protective coating. However, so often in major food companies, you will see xylitol added along with another compound. Whether it be aspartame or sucralose. So if you are buying “Trident” with a big “XYLITOL” label on the package, you had better read the other ingredients first. Aspartame and sucralose have no acceptable dose in my book.
The two most commonly used sugar alcohol in non food production, are ethylene glycol and methanol. Because they are sugar alcohols, they are sweet. However, they are very toxic, and these are the common components used in antifreeze helping to make it both viscous as well as resistant to freezing. It also makes it sweet… don’t try it.
So you might wonder why the concern?
First off, any processed sweetener, or food for that matter, where a molecule is extracted from a larger compound, leaves questions as to how well we can deal with that on its own. All of the sugar alcohols have been shown to cause diarrhea, headaches, nausea, vomiting and aches in some people. I have had xylitol sweetened desserts that I made myself that have hurt my stomach, giving me cramping pains. On the flip side, when I made my “Peppermint Hot Chocolate Cupcakes” on the Straight 60, I had put a significant amount of xylitol in, and I had no issue at all eating them.
Now, on that point. On the straight 60 we want no spike in blood sugar. Those cupcakes spiked my blood sugar… they gave me a slight head rush. Why? Sugar Alcohols still have carbohydrate in them. Just not as much as sugar. But if you eat a lot of it, you will spike your blood sugar the same.
Erythritol is to be used in low amounts, and you really shouldn’t touch the others. Partly because of the carbohydrate content, but more so because they appear to be more dangerous to the intestine than xylitol. As with any food that could be corn based (most sugar alcohol is), you should look for non-GMO labeling.
In the end, your best choice is always stevia as a sweetener that is non-carbohydrate. Just watch out for Truvia, as they also have added erythritol. So a serving every other day at most. Thanks for paying attention and getting healthy, it makes my life have purpose!
Be well and Be blessed! - Dr. E