You may have heard of erythritol, a sugar substitute that is growing in popularity because it looks and tastes like sugar but has almost no calories. It has been used as a sweetener in candy, gum, chocolate, beverages, yogurt, fillings, jellies, bars, and jam in Japan since 1990.
What Is Erythritol?
Classified as a sugar alcohol, erythritol is found naturally in small amounts in grapes, pears, melons, mushrooms, and fermented foods such as wine, beer, cheese, and soy sauce. It is also manufactured from starches like corn and available in granulated and powdered form at some health food stores and natural grocers.
Some of the more common sugar alcohol sweeteners are sorbitol and xylitol. Like erythritol, they are used to add sweetness to food while adding few calories.
How Does It Compare to Sugar?
Erythritol is approximately 70 percent as sweet as table sugar (sucrose). Unlike sugar, it has a cooling effect on the mouth. While some reviewers say that erythritol tastes more like sugar than other sweeteners like stevia (which can sometimes be bitter), others dislike the taste.
When mixing erythritol into a liquid, it doesn’t dissolve as easily as sugar.
How Is It Made?
Erythritol is typically made from plant sugars. Sugar is mixed with water and then fermented with a natural culture into erythritol. It is then filtered, allowed to crystallize, and then dried. The finished product is white powder or granules that resemble sugar.
Why Do People Use Erythritol?
1) Sugar Substitute
Erythritol is not metabolized and over 90% is excreted, making it almost zero calories. While it is used as a replacement for sugar, some research suggests that it may not reduce satiety or sugar intake.
In a study published in Appetite in 2016, for instance, researchers investigated the effects of partial replacement of sugar by erythritol in meals. They discovered that while erythritol meals led to a smaller blood glucose and insulin response than sugar meals, there was no difference in hunger and satiety scores, subsequent sugar intake, or the release of Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and peptide YY (PYY), hormones responsible for reduced appetite and insulin release.
2) Dental Cavities
Erythritol may help to prevent cavities, according to a study published in Caries Research in 2016. For the study, 485 children consumed erythritol, xylitol, or sorbitol candies on school days for three years. At the end of the three-year consumption period, the time to cavity development was significantly longer in those who took erythritol compared to those who took sorbitol.
Erythritol has also been found to decrease dental plaque, decrease the adherence of oral bacteria to teeth, and reduce the overall number of dental cavities.
Possible Side Effects
Compared to other sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol, erythritol is said to cause fewer digestive complaints. Erythritol is a smaller molecule and 90 percent of erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine and excreted, for the most part, unchanged in urine. This quality makes erythritol unique among the sugar alcohols.
Still, erythritol has been known to cause side effects such as headache, stomachache, bloating, digestive upset, and diarrhea.
There have been case reports of allergic reactions, erythritol-induced anaphylaxis, and hives (urticaria).
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sugar alcohols may aggravate your symptoms.
Pregnant or nursing women and children and people with conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease should consult their healthcare providers before using erythritol.