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Xylitol (pronounced: zai-luh-taal) is a sugar alcohol or polyol that naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables.
It can be found in the following:
Commercially, xylitol is extracted and processed from fibrous plant materials and hardwoods. Many people use it as a sugar substitute, food additive, and low-calorie sweetener for people with elevated blood sugar (e.g., diabetes).
Keep in mind that xylitol isn’t an actual sugar. Rather, it’s a carbohydrate with a chemical structure similar to alcohol and sugar. While Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar, it doesn’t affect the body like alcohol.
No. Xylitol isn’t an artificial sweetener.
Aspartame, Sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners are synthetically produced in laboratories. They’re considered non-nutritive sweeteners because they have zero calories and don’t provide energy when consumed.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring plant-based product and a nutritive sweetener. Unlike artificial sweeteners, it provides some calories as well as energy when consumed.
Consuming xylitol is safe for humans. Dental products and food that contain xylitol are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption.
Yes. Xylitol is a healthy sugar substitute for three reasons:
Xylitol has fewer calories than regular table sugar. It contains approximately 9 calories per teaspoon, compared to sugar, which contains 16.1
Xylitol is a healthy alternative to sugar for people who want to:
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol are often used as food additives due to their low-calorie content.2
The glycemic index (GI) measures how much food affects your blood sugar on a scale of 0 to 100. It tells you how slowly or quickly the body metabolizes food into simple sugars for energy. Foods can have a low, medium, or high glycemic index:
Brown and white sugar have a medium glycemic index ranging from 60 to 65. Xylitol has a low glycemic index of 12.2 This means that, compared to sugar, the body takes longer to metabolize xylitol.
Individuals with diabetes can benefit from xylitol because it doesn’t cause a drastic increase in blood sugar levels. Studies show that it also helps maintain stable blood sugar.3,4
Xylitol is just as sweet as sugar. It has a relative sweetness of 0.97, which is only 3% less than actual sugar.
Currently, it’s the sweetest sugar substitute among sugar alcohols. Xylitol is often used with other sweeteners to mask their bitterness.2
Yes. Xylitol is tooth-friendly.
In fact, you can replace sugar with xylitol to help protect your teeth. It also offers unique oral health benefits that other sugar alcohols don’t.2,5
Here are some xylitol benefits:
Xylitol can’t be metabolized by acid-forming bacteria or used as a nutrient. Instead, bacteria convert xylitol into xylitol 5-phosphate (X5P), which inhibits their metabolism and acid production.
Since oral bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus need an acidic environment to thrive, the non-acidic nature of xylitol prevents their growth (along with plaque formation).6
Sugar-free chewing gum containing xylitol further prevents plaque by stimulating saliva production. The increased saliva neutralizes plaque pH and washes out the excess sugars, acids, and bacteria that pool in the mouth shortly after eating sugary food and drinks.6
Xylitol reduces the bulk and stickiness of pre-existing plaque, resulting in a decrease in plaque mass. This is because xylitol interferes with Streptococcus mutans.
According to one study, xylitol can cause a slowed production of polysaccharides. It can also prevent the collection of bacteria cells and reduce the adhesiveness of bacteria to teeth.6
Xylitol is non-cariogenic like other sugar alcohols. This means that it inhibits S. mutans from breeding in your mouth.
The sugar alcohol also stops the growth of bacteria in the mouth by increasing saliva production. These combined effects give xylitol the ability to prevent dental caries.2,5
Xylitol is unique from other polyols because it offers long-term protection against tooth decay.
Clinical researchers investigated people who used xylitol chewing gums for 2 to 3 years. A follow-up was conducted several years later. They found that xylitol continued to protect against dental caries even though participants stopped chewing gum a few years earlier.7
Xylitol provides even more benefits for children’s oral health. Children that chew xylitol-containing gum for at least one year before their permanent teeth erupt are better protected against tooth decay.7
Studies have also shown that mothers pass on their oral microflora to infants.8 Consumption of xylitol chewing gum while pregnant enables the mother to pass its teeth-protective qualities to their children.5
The same children experienced fewer dental caries than those whose mothers did not use these products.8
The effectiveness of xylitol goes beyond the prevention of dental caries. Evidence suggests it can also repair teeth.
While the ADA still recommends fluoride toothpaste, xylitol is a great alternative to help fight tooth decay.
When you consume food and drinks that are high in sugar, acids accumulate in the mouth and cause the plaque pH to drop below 5.5. The acidic environment reduces the saturation of phosphate and hydroxyl ions in the mouth and dissolves tooth minerals.
Xylitol-containing chewing gum increases the production of saliva, which helps with remineralization.
Saliva contains calcium and phosphate ions which perform minimal repairs on damaged enamel. Remineralization reverses the progression of dental caries and prevents their development.8
Some xylitol-containing products for dental health include:
Besides dental products, many foods and beverages contain xylitol as a sugar substitute. It’s widely used in food as an additive or as a sugar substitute, especially in people with elevated blood sugar levels (e.g., diabetes).
Food products containing xylitol include:
Xylitol can also be used to substitute sugar when making baked goods like cakes and muffins.
Xylitol does more than prevent dental caries and maintain normal blood sugar. Based on clinical evidence, it offers other benefits as well.
Applying 5% xylitol and 5% glycerol to dry skin for 14 days increases skin hydration, reduces moisture loss, and improves the thickness of the skin so it’s better protected against injury.
A higher concentration of xylitol (8.26%) was also shown to reduce skin irritation. Furthermore, xylitol is proven to have antimicrobial and cooling effects on the skin, which shows its potential application in wound care.4
Xylitol is a prebiotic that promotes healthy gut flora. Clinical evidence shows that xylitol chewing gum helps relieve constipation and encourages bowel movement, especially after undergoing a Caesarian section or elective proctectomy.4
Xylitol ferments and isn’t digested in the intestines. As it ferments, it produces short-chain fatty acids, improving digestion and absorption of minerals such as calcium. This, in turn, helps strengthen the bones.4
Nasal sprays that contain xylitol prevent the growth of certain harmful bacteria in the airways. It also improves the quality of life in patients with sinusitis and non-allergic nasal congestion.4
Xylitol consumption in children lowers their risk for ear infections by up to 25%. It didn’t matter whether they received xylitol as chewing gum or lozenge. They continued to enjoy the same protection against acute otitis media (AOM).9
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is widely used in various products. Aside from preventing dental caries, it also has other health benefits. To ensure your safety, it’s best to consult your dentist or doctor before consuming xylitol.
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