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Erythritol - An Overview

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Erythritol is used as an alternative to sugar. Take a glance through the article below to learn its details.

Written by

Dr. Zeba Jabeen

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At November 4, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 4, 2022

What Is Erythritol?

Erythritol is one of the natural sugar alcohols; besides xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, etc. It is used as a sugar replacement in foods, particularly processed and packaged food items. Sugar alcohols are those carbohydrates that mimic the chemical properties of both sugars and alcohols. Erythritol possesses nearly zero carbohydrates and zero calories per gram. Although erythritol is a sugar alcohol, it does not contain ethanol like alcoholic beverages and is not a part of cocktails. As it enters the body, it is quickly absorbed by the small intestine and released into the bloodstream, so it goes through the gastrointestinal system untouched with zero metabolization.

Erythritol was discovered by a Scottish chemist named John Stenhouse in 1848. Japan has used it since the last decade of the previous century in candies, jellies, jams, chocolate, yogurt, beverages, and natural sugar replacement. However, lately, it has gained popularity in the U.S.A as well.

What Is the Nutritional Profile of Erythritol?

Erythritol is made up of four-carbon sugar alcohol which is around 60 to 80% as sweet as table sugar. Comparatively, erythritol holds 0.25 calories per gram, regarded as zero calories as it is less than one. At the same time, table sugar contains around four calories per gram, providing sixteen times more calories than erythritol. Despite having this characteristic, it may not be good for your health.

How Safe Is Erythritol?

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration, U.S.A recognized erythritol as safe for human intake. It is loved by the food industry and its consumers as it tastes similar to sugar. However, unlike sugar, it is calorie-free and aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels.

As per the studies, erythritol is unlikely to cause any harm when consumed in normal amounts. It is immediately absorbed in the small intestine, with only around 10% entering the colon; the rest, 90%, is excreted in the urine. It may not hold similar health benefits as other natural sugar substitutes, like monk fruit or raw honey.

To prevent its potential adverse effects, it is advised that adults should not consume more than 0.45 grams of erythritol per pound of body weight in a day or one gram of erythritol per kilogram of body weight).

What Are the Potential Health Benefits of Erythritol?

Here are some of the possible health benefits of erythritol that make it a sugar substitute:

1. Is Sugar-Free and May Aid in Maintaining Blood Sugar and Body Weight: It helps manage weight as it is devoid of calories. Erythritol is also suitable for diabetics and those following a keto or low-carb diet. Substituting sugar with erythritol while sticking to the keto diet can help keep the carbohydrates in control and assist the body in staying in ketosis. However, its consumption in large amounts can cause metabolic changes that are not helpful in weight management.

2. Provides Satiety and Satisfaction: Erythritol impacts the release of some hormones in the gut, and it even delays emptying the stomach. It can also enhance the feeling of low-sugar foods in the mouth and can counteract the abnormal aftertastes that other intense sweeteners possess.

3. Good for Oral Health: Though there have been mixed reviews, some studies claim that erythritol can decrease the occurrence of plaque and tooth decay because sugar alcohols do not react with plaque bacteria in the mouth as sugar does. As per the Food Insight Organization, erythritol inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutants, a bacteria associated with tooth cavities.

4. Has Potential Antioxidative Effects: Some researchers claim that erythritol may hold antioxidative properties, enhance endothelial function in type 2 diabetes patients, and maintain cardiovascular health.

What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Erythritol?

Erythritol is said to have the following major concerns:

1. Is Usually Genetically Modified: Most erythritol varieties used in the food industry today are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from genetically modified corn. Certain animal studies have linked the intake of GMOs with potential health issues, such as:

  • Infertility.

  • Immune concerns.

  • Fast aging.

  • Deranged insulin regulation.

  • Influence on major vital organs and gastrointestinal systems.

2. Generally Contains Artificial Sweeteners as Well: Erythritol is less sweet than sugar, and other artificial sweeteners like aspartame are often added to foods and beverages. When this happens, the erythritol-containing food item becomes more troublesome for the health. For instance, the potential adverse effects of erythritol-aspartame products may include the following:

  • Anxiety.

  • Temporary memory loss.

  • Fibromyalgia.

  • Weight gain.

  • Fatigue.

3. Can Cause Gastrointestinal Issues: Sugar alcohols are not metabolized by the body like dietary fiber, so they can cause abdominal gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some people. The bacteria ferment them in the large intestine. However, comparatively, the chances of erythritol fermentation in the gut are less, so it is less likely to initiate digestive issues.

The most common side effect of erythritol is diarrhea, particularly when consumed in excess or along with fructose. When consumption is high, that is, 50 grams or more daily, stomach upset symptoms like flatulence, cramps, bloating, stomachaches, and diarrhea become more likely to occur. Due to this, it is essential to have a moderate intake of erythritol.

Regarding its impact on one’s microbiome, a study found that, when combined with stevia, erythritol does not negatively influence gut bacterial growth. However, certain changes to the gut microbial structure and diversity occur.

4. May Trigger Allergic Reactions: Although rarely yet, erythritol can lead to an allergic skin reaction in certain individuals, as claimed by a study in the Journal of Dermatology.

Conclusion:

Erythritol is a natural sweetener and holds some health benefits too. But, it also has side effects, which usually outweigh its profits. So, its consumption should be avoided in most circumstances, and if needed, care should be taken to have it in minimal doses and not over consume it.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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