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Xylitol is a 5-carbon sugar that has 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbs than refined white sugar. Xylitol is a mere 7 on the glycemic index (which measures the impact of food on our blood sugar levels), compared to sugar’s glycemic index of 100. It has no bad aftertaste, and occurs naturally, not only in fruits and vegetables, but in our own bodies, where we make both xylitol and the enzymes to digest it, every day. It has none of the undesirable effects of either sugar or the artificial sweeteners.
All of the above is great, and why I have recommended Xylitol as a sugar substitute, along with stevia, for some time. However, as I continue to read and research, it appears that Xylitol has some unique and significant therapeutic benefits that recommend it to use.
- Xylitol has only a negligible impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. This means that unlike sugar, there are no highs and lows: no roller coaster for either your energy or your mood, and no subsequent cravings for more sweets and carbohydrates. No adrenal fatigue, no weight gain, no increase in cortisol levels. In fact, xylitol can help keep you hormonally balanced through its insulin stabilization factors. And as I learned in my training with endocrinologist Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, healthy insulin response is essential to healthy aging and healthy hormones, as well as effecting cholesterol levels, incidence of Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, and much more.
- Tooth & Gum Health Xylitol alkalinizes the mouth. It not only reduces bacterial growth but actually inhibits and interferes with development of plaque, and bad bacterial strains such as strep. The Journal of the American Dental Association said “Xylitol is an effective preventive agent against dental caries… Consumption of xylitol-containing chewing gum has been demonstrated to reduce caries in Finnish teenagers by 30-60%. Studies conducted in Canada, Thailand, Polynesia and Belize have shown similar results…” A study conducted at Harvard School of Dental Medicine concluded that “Xylitol can significantly decrease the incidence of dental caries.” – which is why more and more dentists are recommending it, in toothpastes, gums and candies. There is some indication that xylitol may work against biofilm, which would also be advantageous in the mouth. Sugar, of course, increases the acidity of the mouth and the body as a whole, as well as bacterial growth and the incidence of cavities.
Among young children whose mothers chewed xylitol gum, there was a 70% decrease in tooth decay, presumably because it inhibited bacteria that are normally passed back and forth with shared kisses, drinks, food, etc. It looks as if, used consistently over time, Xylitol may even repair some damage from cavities.
- Craving Reduction Xylitol slows stomach emptying time, promoting a feeling of fullness. According to research, including xylitol around mealtime significantly decreases the number of calories needed to feel full. Obviously, this can have great potential for weight management.
- Ear Infections 8-10 grams of xylitol daily led to a 30% decrease in ear infections in young children. This is attributed to its anti-microbial effects, particularly on strep and flu viruses.
- Sinus Health Many people are discovering the benefits of using a Neti Pot for help with allergies, colds, and sinus infections. Take advantage of xylitol’s anti-microbial properties by adding some to your neti therapy. Start with just 1/4 teaspoon: a little goes a long way. You can also add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.
- Alkalinity Xylitol is alkalinizing to our systems, making us less hospitable to harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi of all kinds. Keeping the body alkaline makes it easier and more likely for you to stay healthy and balanced in every way. Sugar, in contrast, creates an acidic environment, feeding destructive microbes and weakening the immune system.
- Bone Health Animal studies suggest that regular consumption of xylitol can improve bone strength during aging, probably because of the increased consumption of calcium, as well as the alkalinizing effect. The more acidic your system, the more the body will leech calcium from bones and teeth to re-balance itself.
- Yeast/Candida Xylitol is the only sugar that does not feed yeast. In fact, it contributes to its destruction. This means it is not only safe for those grappling with candida, it is actually beneficial. This is not true of any of the other sugars or sugar alcohols, including sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, erythritol, as well as fructose, honey, maple syrup, agave, malt, molasses, coconut sugar, etc. (note: there is some early research suggesting that erythritol may have the same properties but it is not clear yet)
- Safety Xylitol is safe. It was approved as an additive by the FDA in 1963, and recognized as a safe sweetener in 1986. Although some people experience some initial GI discomfort as they incorporate higher amounts, this is usually temporary. My experience with clients is that this initial reaction indicates an existing imbalance in the GI tract which is important to be addressed on its own. Once this is cleared, xylitol is well-tolerated and the client is healthier than before.
- Practical Xylitol has a consistency, texture and flavor virtually identical to sugar, although it is just very slightly less sweet. It is great for tea, cookies, candies, brownies, etc. Because it does not feed yeast, it does not work for bread.
For oral health, use xylitol mints or gum 3-5 times a day, and especially after meals and snacks. Toothpaste with xylitol is great too, and is becoming more widely available.
As xylitol has become more popular and available there are, of course, more products from which to choose. Originally, xylitol was made from birch sugar, and this was considered the gold standard. Now, most xylitol is made from corn. However, I find that it is not necessary to use only xylitol from birch. What matters, as always, is the quality of the raw ingredients, and the quality of the manufacturing process. I offer one that is pure birch, and one that is pharmaceutical grade but has some corn source. Both test well and are tolerated well by my clients, almost without exception. And the good news is that it has actually gone down in price! Some of the cheaper xylitol products are more problematic: they do not test well, and are more likely to cause problems in the gut. Be careful of products that add fillers and excipients, especially to packets.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes. This is a healthy, low-glycemic, sugarless treat that everyone loves! Make a bunch and keep some in the freezer.
Home-made Healthy “Chunkies”
Melt one bar of unsweetened chocolate and 2 T unsalted pastured butter or coconut oil in the top of a double boiler, and add xylitol to sweeten to taste. While the chocolate mixture is melting, keep stirring. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Once chocolate is fully melted and xylitol is dissolved, remove from heat and add 1 Tablespoon vanilla or other flavoring (orange, almond, cinnamon, etc). Mix in some raw nuts and a tiny bit of dried fruit. You can put the pot in freezer or fridge for a short while to thicken a bit, or just let it cool. Drop by teaspoon on covered cookie sheet. Refrigerate to set – yum!
I have Xylitol powder in bulk and packets and xylitol toothpaste available in my office.
p.s. Please note that xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs, so make sure to keep it – and anything made with it – away from your pup!