Is Erythritol Healthy? – Everything you should know about the sugar substitute!
We are all aware that excessive sugar consumption is harmful to our health in the long term. Sugar is believed to be one of the main causes of a wide variety of diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Also, since sugar is found in most foods, it’s no surprise that the majority of people ingest much more than the recommended amount. Given the risks involved, many try to live sugar-free or reduce their consumption as much as possible. Fortunately, there are now many sugar alternatives such as stevia, xylitol and erythritol. Would you like to know whether erythritol is healthy and any known side effects? All of this, as well as a lot of other useful information, can only be found in our article!
Although erythritol was discovered in Scotland by chemist John Stenhaus in 1848, it has only been growing in popularity in Europe for 3-4 years. The main reason for this is that erythritol tastes almost as sweet as regular table sugar, but only has 20 calories per 100 grams. It is therefore often used as an ingredient in sugar-free and low-sugar foods and is an excellent alternative for those who want a balanced and healthy diet.
What is erythritol?
Erythritol belongs to the family of sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, and was registered in Germany with the chemical name E698. In the US, it was approved as a food additive without restrictions back in 1999, and in the European Union – in 2006. Sugar alcohols are natural sweeteners that occur naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. Although they have a chemical similarity to fructose and glucose, they are not metabolized by our body like normal sugar and have no effect on blood sugar levels. This is why sugar alcohols are also referred to as “non-usable carbohydrates”, like dietary fiber. Erythritol is found in pears, grapes, watermelon, wine, beer and soy sauce, for example. However, the amounts occurring there are relatively small. For this reason, erythritol for the food industry is produced by fermenting wheat or corn starch using the mushrooms Trichosporonoides megachilensis or Minillella pollinis.
Erythritol has about 60 to 80% of the sweetness of table sugar and has a milder taste. About 125 grams of this corresponds to 100 grams of sugar. But while sugar contains 4 calories per gram and sylitol 2.5 calories per gram, erythritol is practically calorie-free with only 0.2 calories per gram. Other reasons why the sugar alternative is becoming increasingly popular is that erythritol doesn’t have the aftertaste of stevia or the gastrointestinal side effects of xylitol. Even if it is a type of carbohydrate, 90% of it is excreted in the urine. The remaining 10% is absorbed by our body as dietary fiber. Erythritol is often added to many packaged foods and beverages. Below are some examples of where it’s most included.
- Reduced calorie soft drinks or diet sodas
- Sports and energy drinks
- Sugar-free chewing gum, peppermints or gummy bears
- Low carb or sugar-free chocolate products and desserts such as ice cream, pudding, jam, spreads, pralines or even cakes and biscuits.
Is erythritol healthy for type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common diseases worldwide and everyone who suffers from it must significantly reduce their sugar consumption. The German Diabetes Society recommends a maximum of 50 grams per day and that is not even 2 teaspoons. Several scientific studies have already confirmed that consuming erythritol does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels, making it the perfect sugar substitute for all diabetics. Another study on 24 adults with type 2 diabetes found that erythritol is a powerful antioxidant and that a daily intake of 36 grams for a month even improved the function of blood vessels and significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The sugar substitute is good for dental health
We all know that table sugar is harmful and has a bad effect on our teeth. In contrast, sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol are known to suppress the growth of caries bacteria and kill them. A scientific study found that erythritol even balances the pH value in the mouth and has a positive effect on tooth mineralization. This in turn reduces the risk of gingivitis and tooth decay. So it’s no surprise that erythritol is widely used as an ingredient in toothpaste or mouthwash.
Are erythritol and sugar alcohols suitable for weight loss?
The glycemic index of 0 is also further evidence that erythritol is healthy. The sweetener is not only low in calories, but also ensures a long-lasting feeling of satiety. Since it avoids unwanted food cravings, this property is particularly appreciated by people who would like to lose a few pounds. If you are trying to eat healthily but still cannot do without a piece of delicious cake, then you are well advised to use erythritol as a sugar substitute. Table sugar can easily be replaced with it in all recipes and you won’t notice any difference in taste.
The sugar substitute is also suitable for low carb
Natural sugar substitutes such as erythritol have become an indispensable part of a low carb diet and are enjoying increasing popularity. Since sugar alcohols are very similar to sugar tastes, they are popular as an ingredient in a variety of low-carbohydrate recipes and desserts. Even though erythritol is mostly made up of carbohydrates, it does not affect your total carbohydrate intake. According to the International Food Information Council, sugar alcohols are not metabolized by the body and are excreted through the urine. For this reason, erythritol is healthy and a suitable sugar substitute for anyone on a low carb diet or on the keto diet.
What is the difference between sugar alcohols and other sweeteners?
Many people don’t know the difference between artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols and therefore have concerns about whether or not erythritol is healthy. There are a number of scientific studies that have already confirmed the negative effects of artificial sugar substitutes several times. The most popular and dangerous sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin and acesulfame-K. The side effects of consuming them range from migraines and headaches to kidney damage, cardiovascular disease, or even cancer. A 2010 study found that consuming foods and beverages with artificial sweeteners on a daily basis increased the risk of type 2 diabetes in healthy adults by 67%. In addition, most of them taste up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame, for example, consists of 2 amino acids and is 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Sugar alcohols, on the other hand, are absolutely safe for daily consumption, according to the World Health Organization.
Are there any known side effects?
While erythritol is generally healthy, in some cases consuming it in excess can lead to undesirable and unpleasant side effects.
- Digestive problems with excessive daily consumption – As with all other foods, the same applies to erythritol – the dose makes the poison. The recommended daily dose for adults is 80 grams and for children – 50 grams. For comparison purposes only, 30 grams of xylitol can lead to gastrointestinal complaints. With a higher intake, symptoms such as gas, nausea, stomach pain and diarrhea occur. Of course, this differs from person to person. It is therefore advisable, especially at the beginning, to observe how your body reacts to the consumption of erythritol.
- It is often combined with other artificial sweeteners – Since erythritol tastes 80% as sweet as sugar, it is often combined with harmful sweeteners such as aspartame in beverages and foods. To avoid this, we recommend that you read the ingredients on the label carefully.
- Erythritol can be fatal for pets – not only erythritol, but also other sugar alcohols and artificial sugar substitutes must not be consumed by pets. Even small amounts of it can cause seizures, liver failure, hypoglycemia, and even death in dogs. Symptoms usually appear within 15-20 minutes of consumption. So if you suspect that your four-legged friend has consumed such products, call your veterinarian immediately.
Conclusion: is erythritol healthy or not?
It is clear that erythritol is a better choice and much healthier than sugar. However, it is important to understand that foods labeled “low sugar” or “sugar free” are not always good for your health. Some products that contain sugar substitutes are still very high in carbohydrates and unhealthy fats and should not be consumed too often. All in all, a balanced and healthy diet should not consist mainly of diet bars or light drinks. And if you have an appetite for a delicious cake, it would be much better if you bake it yourself at home and use erythritol instead of sugar.