Using Erythritol as a Low-Carb Sugar Substitute

Learn about this sugar alcohol and how to use it on a low-carb diet

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Erythritol is the sugar alcohol (a.k.a. polyol) that has the least known impact on blood sugar. It's used by many on a low- or no-sugar low-carb diet. Erythritol has almost zero calories, zero carbs, and a zero glycemic-index score. The reason for this is that erythritol acts a bit differently in the body than most sugar alcohols: While they're only partially absorbed in the small intestine, a significant amount of erythritol—as much as 60 percent to 90 percent—is absorbed into the blood, but is then excreted in the urine. Because of this, erythritol tends to produce much less intestinal distress than other sugar alcohols.

Benefits of Erythritol vs. Other Sugar Alcohols

  • Erythritol has 0.2 calories per gram—virtually zero calories. By comparison, sorbitol contains 2.6 calories per gram and xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram.
  • Many people feel erythritol is the closest in taste to table sugar as compared to other sugar alcohols like stevia.
  • Erythritol is not associated with stomach upset or diarrhea, unlike other sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol.
  • Whereas other sugar alcohols like sorbitol significantly reduce the rise in blood sugar and the insulin response when consumed, erythritol has no effect on either blood sugar or insulin levels.
  • Like other sugar alcohols, erythritol is not harmful to tooth enamel and does not contribute to tooth decay.

How It's Made

Erythritol occurs naturally in small amounts in some fruits, such as corn, and in greater amounts in certain mushrooms and other fungi, as well as in fermented foods like wine and soy sauce. The form used in foods is generally made by the fermentation of plant sugars. Some erythritol is made from plant sugars through a process of adding water and plant-based sugar. The result is a crystallized substance much like table sugar in terms of taste and texture.

Use in a Low-Carb Diet

Erythritol has 60 percent to 80 percent of the sweetness of sugar. Especially when used plain, it tends to have a cooling effect in the mouth. It can be used in baking, where it also has some of the tenderizing effects of sugar, but results won't be exactly the same.

It can at least partially replace sugar or artificial sweeteners for most uses. It's especially useful in combination with chocolate in candy or brownies, compared to using purely artificial sweeteners, which produce unsatisfactory results. Some people replace erythritol one-to-one with sugar in recipes, but you may also try adding 25 percent more erythritol than the amount of sugar the recipe calls for to compensate for its less-sweet taste.

Finding and Buying Erythritol

Erythritol is not widely available in stores at this time, so most must order it online. You may want to check with health food stores or low-carb grocery stores in your area. It is reasonably priced.

Erythritol comes in both granulated and powdered forms. The powder is preferable for most uses because the granulated form seems to stay grainy unless dissolved in water. If you end up with some granulated erythritol, run it through the blender for a while to pulverize it. Don't try using a food processor for this, since it doesn't work to smooth out the taste of granulated erythritol.

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Article Sources
  • MedlinePlus. Sweeteners—Sugars.

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Sugar Substitutes.