Erythritol: A Sweet Sugar Alternative?

Have you ever wondered if there’s a healthier way to enjoy your favorite sweet treats? Erythritol may be the sweetener you’re searching for.

This sugar alternative is said to reach a staggering global market value of $2,689 million by 2028, but what exactly drives its soaring popularity?

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What is Erythritol?

Erythritol is a white crystalline substance similar in appearance to table sugar. It’s a naturally-occurring, nonnutritive sweetener derived from fermented foods and certain fruits.

It's notable for its minimal caloric content — only 0.2 calories per gram — which is significantly lower than the 4 calories per gram found in table sugar. This is also less than that of other sugar alcohols, such as xylitol.

Erythritol stands out among sugar substitutes for its reduced likelihood of causing gastrointestinal issues and offers about 60% of the sweetness of table sugar.

This versatile sugar alternative is available under brand names like Zerose® and Erylite® and is labeled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) for use as a sugar substitute.

What are the Side Effects of Erythritol?

While it’s generally well-tolerated, erythritol can have some side effects, particularly when consumed in large quantities. These include:

  • Digestive issues: The most common side effect of erythritol, as with many sugar alcohols, is digestive discomfort. This may include gas and bloating, especially in individuals with sensitive digestive systems.

  • Laxative effect: In high doses, erythritol may have a laxative effect, leading to increased bowel movements and potential discomfort.

  • Allergic reactions: Though rare, some people may experience allergic reactions to erythritol, which can include itching, swelling, rashes, and even anaphylaxis.

  • Headaches: A small number of people may experience headaches after consuming erythritol, although this is relatively uncommon.

  • Nausea: Ingesting large amounts of erythritol can cause nausea in some individuals.

What are the Potential Dangers of Erythritol?

Recent research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has identified a potential connection between the use of erythritol and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

Initial findings indicate that erythritol may elevate the risk of these cardio- and cerebrovascular events, which are often caused by blood clots obstructing blood flow to the heart or brain.

The studies suggest that erythritol may enhance platelet function, leading to a greater chance of clotting.

This is particularly concerning, as it could contribute to an increased risk of heart attack and other heart diseases. However, further research is required to fully comprehend the long-term safety implications of erythritol use when it comes to heart disease.

What precautions should I take when using erythritol?

While erythritol is generally safe to use, you should be mindful of the quantity you consume. For most people, the recommended tolerable daily intake of erythritol is:

  • 0.66 grams per kilogram of body weight for men

  • 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for women

This amount of erythritol typically causes minimal or no digestive symptoms. However, research has shown that even higher amounts — up to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day — can be tolerated without significant side effects.

Individual tolerance for erythritol can differ, and consuming large amounts may cause the side effects mentioned earlier.

What are the Potential Benefits of Erythritol?

Erythritol is superior to other sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, as it possesses most of the benefits of sugar substitutes without causing negative side effects.

No spike in blood sugar

Unlike other sugar alcohols, most of the erythritol consumed in our food and drinks is absorbed in the small intestine.

Once absorbed, erythritol doesn’t increase blood sugar levels because the body cannot metabolize it, leading to its prompt removal by the kidneys. The unabsorbed portion of erythritol exits the body through the colon.

This process contributes to erythritol's minimal to nonexistent caloric value, since it simply passes through our systems.

Erythritol also triggers the release of satiety hormones, such as cholecystokinin and glucagon-like peptide-1, which signal fullness and help to control calorie intake. This property makes erythritol a potentially suitable sugar substitute for people with diabetes.

Diabetes: An important consideration when replacing sugar with erythritol

People with diabetes who are on insulin or sulfonylureas should be aware that using erythritol — which doesn't raise blood sugar levels — may lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

This is significant since these medications lower blood sugar, and their effect may be amplified by a restrictive diet that includes erythritol.

Doctors often advise diabetics experiencing low blood sugar to consume something sweet to elevate their sugar levels. However, erythritol is not effective for this purpose as it doesn’t impact blood sugar levels.

Individuals diagnosed with diabetes must consult their healthcare provider about their dietary choices, especially regarding the use of sweeteners like erythritol.

Good digestive tolerance

Erythritol is a unique sugar alcohol because it’s predominantly absorbed in the small intestine and later excreted by the kidneys.

Any erythritol not absorbed in the intestine then enters the colon, where bacteria don’t digest it as they do with other sugar alcohols. This characteristic is vital when considering erythritol as a replacement for regular sugar.

The bacterial digestion of other sugar alcohols often produces gas and draws water into the colon, causing flatulence, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Erythritol's unique properties in the digestive system make it a preferable option for those looking to avoid these side effects.

Weight management

As highlighted earlier, erythritol influences the production of satiety hormones, which can lead to a feeling of fullness. Combined with its almost-zero calorie content, this makes substituting erythritol for sugar a strategy that could aid in weight loss.

No aftertaste

Erythritol may be more palatable in sugar-free foods as it doesn’t have the same bitter aftertaste as many artificial sweeteners, and may even be used to mask the aftertaste of other sweeteners.

Erythritol does, however, produce a cooling effect in the mouth, similar to the experience of eating a mint.

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How Can You Tell if Your Food Contains Erythritol?

According to FDA regulations, individual sugar alcohols like erythritol don't need to be separately listed on a product's ingredient list, unless there's a specific health claim related to a sugar alcohol.

If erythritol isn’t identified as an ingredient, here’s how to spot it on food labels:

Look out for specific terms

Manufacturers may simply group erythritol under the general term ‘sugar alcohol’ on labels. They may also label products ‘keto-safe,’ indicating that they’re safe for people following a ketogenic diet.

They may also use the following terms to indicate the presence of erythritol or other sugar alcohols:

  • Sugar-free

  • Reduced-calorie sweetener

  • Diabetic-friendly

  • Brand names of specific sweeteners, such as Zerose® in the case of erythritol

  • Natural sweetener

Pay attention to ‘E numbers’

In the food industry, food additives are often identified by ‘E numbers’ — a system particularly prevalent in Europe for labeling purposes.

Most sugar alcohols and sugar substitutes, for instance, are typically found in the 900 series of these ‘E numbers.’

Erythritol is labeled with the code E968.

Care should be taken when using products from European countries, as these numbers are not self-explanatory, and you should seek further information regarding these codes if you’re concerned.

What are the Uses of Erythritol?

Erythritol is a popular artificial sweetener and has been incorporated into numerous food products. Here’s how you can use it in your diet.

Low-calorie sweetener

With its remarkable water solubility, erythritol is an excellent sweetener for numerous beverages — especially for those focusing on weight loss or calorie reduction.

It dissolves effortlessly, adding sweetness without changing the drink's texture or appearance.

In hot beverages like tea and coffee, erythritol blends smoothly, offering a sugar-like sweetness. It's equally effective in cold drinks, such as sodas and homemade refreshments, making it a favored choice for health-conscious individuals.

Diabetic-friendly foods

Erythritol — which is known for not raising blood sugar levels — is a popular ingredient in diabetic-friendly foods.

As mentioned previously, care should be taken with diabetic medications and insulin, as these can cause a drop in blood sugar — especially when combined with an overly restrictive diet and excessive consumption of sugar-free foods.

Sugar-free snacks and drinks

Erythritol is not only great for creating homemade sugar-free confections, but is also a key ingredient in a wide range of commercially available foods, including:

  • Sodas

  • Chocolates

  • Baked goods

  • Chewing gum

  • Sweets

  • Frozen desserts

  • Jams and spreads

Erythritol may also be combined with other sweeteners to develop varied flavor profiles and improve the mouthfeel and texture of foods.

Additionally, its use alongside other products can help lower production costs, as erythritol tends to be more expensive than regular table sugar or other sweeteners.

Oral care products

Dental cavities are mainly caused by bacteria in the mouth breaking down sugars and producing lactic acid, which damages tooth enamel. This bacterial activity leads to the formation of plaque, a sticky substance laden with bacteria that cause cavities.

Erythritol promotes dental health as it’s not metabolized by these bacteria to form lactic acid. It also hinders bacterial lactic acid production and growth, helping to remove and prevent plaque.

Common oral care products incorporating erythritol include chewing gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

Where Can I Learn More About Erythritol and Similar Sugar Substitutes?

Are you searching for sweeteners that will help you control your blood sugar levels or manage your weight? Explore your options with LifeMD.

Through our platform, you’ll have access to a range of healthcare professionals who can help you find your ideal sugar substitute.

Whether you’re looking to manage diabetes, cut back on sugar, or make better choices for your oral health — we’re here for you.

Book your appointment today to get started.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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