Xylitol - What's in the Name?
Xylitol is a natural substance found in fibrous vegetables and fruit, as well as in corn cobs and various hardwood trees like birch. It is a natural, intermediate product which regularly occurs in the glucose metabolism of humans and animals, as well as in the metabolism of several plants and micro-organisms. Xylitol is produced naturally in our bodies; in fact, we make up to 15 grams daily during normal metabolism. Whilst xylitol sounds like a chemical, it is not. Its original name came from Finland and has produced confusion in many non-European minds.
After World War II, Finland was suffering from an acute sugar shortage. With no domestic supply of sugar, the Finns searched for an alternative. It was then that the Finnish scientists rediscovered xylitol, a low-calorie sugar made from birch bark. It had, in fact, been known to the world since it was first produced in 1891.
Only then did xylitol became recognised as a viable alternative sweetener in foods. It was also during this time that researchers discovered xylitol's remarkable nature (including it's insulin-independent capabilities - it metabolizes in the body without using insulin - and its anti-bacterial properies.)
By the 1960s, xylitol was being used in Germany, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, and Japan as a preferred sweetener in diabetic diets and as an energy source for infusion therapy in patients with impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. Since then, many other countries, have been using xylitol for use in their domestic market as a natural alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners - and with remarkable overall benefits.
Whilst known in many overseas counties, it has been until recently relatively unknown in Australia, primarily because cheap supplies of cane sugar have made the more expensive xylitol less economically viable. However, with the mounting evidence of health related issues associated with refined sugar, the increasing level of obesity and the well-recorded issues associated with artificial sweeteners, xylitol has emerged as a real alternative.
Western cultures have a large craving for sugar, which has created immense problems for our society. Never in human history have people consumed so much sugar.
Xylitol looks, feels, and tastes exactly like sugar. Although that is where the similarities end! Xylitol is really sugar's mirror image. While sugar wreaks havoc on the body, xylitol heals and repairs. It also builds immunity. Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar which means that it is anti-microbial, preventing the growth of bacteria. While sugar is acid-forming, xylitol is alkaline enhancing. All other forms of sugar are six-carbon sugars which feed dangerous bacteria and fungi.
In its crystalline form, it can replace sugar in cooking, baking, or as a sweetener for beverages. It is also included as an ingredient in chewing gum, mints and used in other products such as nasal and mouth washes because it inhibits bacteria. Unlike many artificial sweeteners, it leaves no unpleasant aftertaste. It also reduces sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
It is a chemical-free, natural alternative to sugar and to artificial sweeteners that contain aspartame.
Use in dietary foods
From a dietary perspective, xylitol contains 40% fewer calories than refined sugar.
Xylitol has been shown in numerous clinical studies to be very slowly metabolized. The Glycaemic Index measures how quickly foods enter the bloodstream. Sugar has a 100 GI and xylitol has only 7. The lower the GI the better.
This makes it the perfect sweetener for those who are on controlled diets as well as people who are looking for a suitable alternative to what they currently are offered. Along with significantly cutting down on sugar and carbohydrate cravings, xylitol causes none of the abrupt rises and falls of insulin that occur with consumption of sugar.It is beneficial to both adults & children. Over 1,500 scientific studies have found that the more you use xylitol, the more you can eliminate sugar cravings, reduce insulin levels, and alkalinize your body.
Because it tastes exactly like sugar, kids love it but it does not produce the same reaction that sugar does.
Xylitol has been successfully used overseas for dental prevention. Despite the improvements achieved through the use of fluoride, cavities incidence is still widespread and cause for concern in many countries. Decreasing sugar intake and finding practical means of combating its detrimental effects remains a priority in controlling the incidence of cavities.
When there is an excess of sugar in the diet, this weakens the immune system and creates an acidic environment; thus oral health suffers.
Xylitol is a dentist's dream. It reverses all these destructive effects of sugar on oral health. Xylitol creates an alkaline environment which is inhospitable to the destructive bacteria.
Xylitol has been recommended by a number of dental associations worldwide through endorsement of sugar-free confectionery products in which xylitol constitutes at least 50% of the total sweetener.
For those people who are interested in the technicalities, it is recommended that you read a recently published paper in the British Dental Journal entitled "Xylitol and caries prevention - is it a magic bullet?"
Is it OK to use?
Xylitol has been around for over 100 years. The safety of xylitol has been proven in long-term clinical studies and has been confirmed by all the major regulatory bodies worldwide. It is, for example, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and in Australia by Food Standards Australia & New Zealand.
In addition, xylitol has been evaluated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organisation (WHO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the EU Scientific Committee for Food (SCF).
JECFA allocated an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for xylitol of "Not Specified", which represents the safest category into which JECFA can allocate a food additive.
Xylitol is currently approved in over 50 countries worldwide.
Xylitol has no known toxic levels. Nevertheless, as with other polyols, large quantities may have a laxative effect. The amount tolerated varies with individual susceptibility and body weight. Most adults can tolerate at least 40g per day - which equates to some 10-12 teaspoons per day!
Increased sugar consumption has bedevilled Western cultures with more and more problems. Finally, there is an answer to prayers for something truly beneficial that can not only satisfy our desire for sweetness but also produce positive benefits for your teeth!
Imagine never having to feel those twinges of guilt when you bite into a xylitol-sweetened biscuit or your favourite hot drink with two spoonfuls of xylitol or having to worry about the impact of the amount of sugar that your kids are consuming!