Natural Sweetener Review: Erythritol
With obesity, diabetes, and other sugar-related diseases on the rise, finding healthier alternatives is becoming more essential. When trying to cut back on sugar to improve health, lose weight, or improve mental function, erythritol is another excellent alternative to consider.
What Is Erythritol?
Erythritol is a naturally abundant sugar alcohol, which is its own category of sweetener. It has the smallest molecular weight of any sugar alcohol, and it forms dry crystals of moderate sweetness (60-80% as sweet as sucrose/table sugar).
Erythritol is found naturally in certain foods, such as grapes, mushrooms, watermelons, and pears. It is also a byproduct of certain fermentation processes, such as when cheese, beer, wine, or soy sauce are made. A naturally-occurring substance, it was first isolated in 1852. It gained FDA approval in 2001, however, making it relatively new on the sweetener market.
The FDA has not set an ADI or limit on sugar alcohols, instead saying, “not specified” and Generally Recognized as Safe. NCIB trials found it to be safe at 1 g per kg of body weight.
- For example, a 150 lb person (68 kg) could consume 68 g per day before hitting this limit.
How Is Erythritol Used?
Erythritol is to sweeten:
- Sugar-free candies and chocolates
- Chewing gum
- Coffees and teas (as an add-in)
- Sports drinks
- Baked goods
- Table sweeteners
- It is also used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (particularly in toothpaste and mouthwash)
Pros and Cons of Erythritol
Like all other sugar substitutes, erythritol has pros and cons, including:
- Pro: Sugar alcohols are lower in calories than sugars, and erythritol specifically only contains .24 calories per gram (compared to the 4 calories per gram in sugar).
- Con: Eating large quantities of sugar alcohols can lead to bloating, gas, or an upset stomach. While erythritol causes less gastric distress than other sugar alcohols, it has the potential to still cause problems in excessive quantities.
- Pro: It has a glycemic index of zero (compared to sucrose’s glycemic index of 65) and has no effect on glucose or insulin levels.
- Pro: It doesn’t cause cavities or tooth decay like sugar does. In fact, it can slow oral bacteria growth and decrease the acidity of the mouth.
- Pro: Erythritol is deemed safe for consumption by the FDA.
- Con: The cost of production of erythritol is higher than that of intense sweeteners.
- Pro: It lacks any aftertaste (bitter aftertaste is a common complaint with artificial sweeteners in particular). It can even mask unpleasant aftertastes of other sweeteners, making it ideal for mixing into sweetener products.
Additional Information About Erythritol
At an industrial level, glucose is fermented with yeast to produce erythritol, and this yeast must be thoroughly removed (otherwise you’ll have yeast-related issues with your sweetener). Erythritol is not digested by the body and is instead excreted through urine within 24 hours. It has a strong cooling effect (almost minty) when dissolved in water.
Erythritol is an excellent substance to mix with other intense sweeteners, since it is natural and can be formulated into liquid and solid forms. It is used to provide bulk for and improve the taste of other sweeteners and is an excellent substitute for sugar (without all the related health problems).