Erythritol: A Low-Carb Sugar Substitute

erythritol
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Erythritol is a sugar substitute that is used in products such as candy, gum, chocolate, beverages, yogurt, fillings, jellies, bars, and jam. The sweetener is also available in granulated and powdered form for baking and cooking at home.

Erythritol's unique qualities make it a good choice as a sugar substitute for some people. There are pros and cons you'll want to consider before including the sweetener in your diet.

What Is Erythritol?

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol (also known as a polyol) that is found naturally in foods such as grapes, pears, melons, mushrooms, and certain fermented foods like wine and soy sauce. The sweetener is also manufactured for commercial and home use from starches like corn.

Erythritol has been used in Japan since the 1990s and has slowly gained popularity in other parts of the world.

Erythritol is only one sugar alcohol sweeteners available on the market. Others include sorbitol and xylitol. Each of these sweeteners provides very few calories and has a limited effect on blood sugar. Of the sugar alcohols sweeteners, erythritol has the least impact on blood sugar.

Erythritol has almost zero calories, zero carbs, and a zero glycemic-index score, which is why the sweetener is used by many people following a low-carb or low-sugar diet.

How Erythritol Is Made

The erythritol used in manufactured foods is generally made by the fermentation of plant sugars, usually from corn. The sugar is mixed with water, filtered, and then fermented with a natural culture and dried.

The final product is a crystallized substance (either a white powder or granules) that looks and tastes like table sugar. Other methods of erythritol production are also in development.

How Does Erythritol Compare to Sugar?

Erythritol
  • Contains 0.24 calories per gram

  • Has a sweet taste that is some describe as minty or cool

  • 60-70 percent sweetness

  • Does not dissolve well in liquid

  • Available only in powdered and granulated forms

Sugar
  • Contain 4 calories per gram

  • Has a clean sweet taste

  • 100 percent sweetness

  • Dissolves well in liquid

  • Available in powdered, granulated, or liquid forms

Benefits of Erythritol

Erythritol acts a bit differently in the body compared to most sugar alcohols. The sweeteners unique qualities may provide certain benefits over using sugar or other sugar alcohol sweeteners.

Structurally, erythritol is a smaller molecule than other sugar alcohols. Even though a significant amount is absorbed into the blood (60 to 90%), it is then excreted in the urine. For this reason, erythritol tends to produce less intestinal distress compared to other sugar alcohols.

Compared to other sweeteners, erythritol might be better for your teeth. A 2016 study published in Caries Research suggested that erythritol may help prevent cavities. Other research suggests that erythritol could help decrease dental plaque as well as decrease the adherence of oral bacteria to teeth.

Other potential benefits of erythritol include:

  • Erythritol contains fewer calories per gram (0.2 calories per gram) than other sugar alcohol sweeteners. By comparison, sorbitol contains 2.6 calories per gram, and xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram.
  • Erythritol has no effect on either blood sugar or insulin levels, whereas other sugar alcohols (like sorbitol) significantly reduce the rise in blood sugar and insulin response when consumed.
  • When compared to other sugar alcohols like stevia, many people feel that erythritol is the closest in taste to table sugar.

Safety

Erythritol might be helpful for some people looking to address certain dietary needs regarding sugar, but there can also be drawbacks to using it. There are also limited safety concerns and side effects of using erythritol to consider.

While erythritol might be helpful for some people who need to reduce their calorie consumption or sugar intake, it may not provide the expected benefits. For example, some research suggests that erythritol might not reduce satiety or sugar intake.

In a 2016 study, researchers investigated the effects of partial replacement of sugar by erythritol in meals. The study's findings indicated that even though meals with erythritol led to smaller blood glucose and insulin response (as compared to sugar meals), there was no difference in hunger and satiety scores or overall sugar intake.

The study also found no difference in the release of hormones responsible for reduced appetite and insulin production.

Even though the sweetener is known to cause fewer gastrointestinal problems for most people, some people might experience certain symptoms related to erythritol consumption, such as:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Stomachache

Additionally, there are published case reports of allergic reactions to erythritol in some people using the sweetener, including anaphylaxis and urticaria (hives).

People with certain health conditions should exercise caution when using erythritol in their diets. For example, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), erythritol (or any sugar alcohol) might aggravate your symptoms.

People with health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as women who are pregnant or nursing, should consult their healthcare providers before using erythritol.

Cooking With Erythritol

Erythritol has a sweetness level that is close to that of sugar, making it a popular choice for cooking. It can partially replace sugar or other artificial sweeteners for most uses.

Erythritol comes in both granulated and powdered forms. The powder is preferable for most uses because the granulated form tends to stay grainy unless dissolved in water.

If you end up with granulated erythritol, run it through the blender to pulverize it. However, don't try using a food processor, since it doesn't work to smooth out the taste of granulated erythritol.

Compared to using purely artificial sweeteners (which can produce unsatisfactory results) erythritol is especially useful when combined with chocolate in candy or brownies.

You can often replace erythritol one-to-one with sugar in recipes, but you might try adding 25% more erythritol than the amount of sugar called for to compensate for its less-sweet taste.

However, there are a few things to keep mind when using this sweetener. For example, when used plain, erythritol tends to have a cooling effect in the mouth.

Additionally, while it has some of the tenderizing effects of sugar, the results won't be exactly the same when you use erythritol in a recipe.

Erythritol is not widely available in stores, so most consumers order it online. You might check with health food stores or low-carb grocery stores in your area to see if they can order it for you.

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Article Sources
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