What is Erythritol? Should You Replace Sugar with It?
The reason why erythritol doesn’t provide calories or sugar to its consumer is because the body actually can’t break it down. That’s why it’s used as a sugar substitute. You’ll commonly find it in low-sugar or sugar-free products. It’s generally safe but there are some side effects to consider. Let’s dive into the risks and benefits so that you can make a decision if and how to include it into your diet.
What is erythritol?
Erythritol belongs to a family of polyols, also known as sugar alcohols. They stimulate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue even though they contain no sugar.
There are nearly zero calories and zero sugar per gram of erythritol.
The word "alcohol" is a part of the name because their chemical structure is similar to alcohol. But don’t worry, sugar alcohols do not contain any ethanol. They can´t make you drunk. Here are some of the most common sugar alcohols you will come across.
Erythritol is a bit different from the other polyols in the way it is digested. Once it enters your body, about 90% of it is rapidly absorbed in the small intestine just to be excreted in the urine later. The remaining 10 % continues undigested to the colon just like fibre for example. It essentially goes through your system untouched with zero metabolization (1). The body digests much more of the other polyols, typically around 50%.
Is erythritol safe?
Overall, erythritol appears to be very safe. It has been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (2). The only concern are its laxative properties. But most people can handle around 1 gram of Erythritol for every kilogram of body weight daily without digestive issues. That is more than enough to replace most if not all the added sugar in your diet.
Benefits of erythritol
The food industry and consumers love it because it has several unique benefits. Let’s take a look at the main ones.
- Substitutes sugar really well. Erythritol has a similar sweet taste as sugar without any bad aftertaste like some alternative sweeteners. It fits really well in the keto and low-carb diets.
- Can help with weight management. It allows for enjoying sweet taste without any calories. This can make any weight loss diet much easier to stick with.
- Doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. Erythritol is suitable for diabetics because it helps manage blood glucose levels (3)
- Can help increase satiety and satisfaction. Some studies show that erythritol could influence the release of satiety hormones in the gut and slow the emptying of the stomach (4).
- Better for teeth than other sweeteners. Studies show that it decreases weight of dental plaque and inhibits growth and activity of bacteria associated with cavities (5).
- Doesn’t count into net carbs. If you’re keto or low carb you don’t have to count erythritol in your daily net carbohydrate budget. Check out our post on how to calculate net carbs.
Side effects of erythritol
Erythritol is generally considered one of the healthiest sugar alcohols. But you should still keep in mind that very high doses can cause digestive issues. Reduce your intake if you experience symptoms such as stomach rumbling, bloating, cramps, gas, or diarrhoea.
Also note that erythritol is not safe for dogs. Make sure to avoid feeding your pets any foods that contain this sweetener as even a relatively small amount could cause harm.
What is the healthiest sugar substitute?
There are many ways to replace sugar in your diet. You can try natural alternatives such as honey but that won’t help you get rid of the calories, simple sugars, and the blood sugar fluctuations. If you want to enjoy those kinds of benefits you have to go for other alternatives. Let’s compare erythritol to its two most popular rivals, xylitol and stevia.
Erythritol vs stevia - which is better?
Stevia is an herbal plant that is native to Brazil and Paraguay. It can be used in a form of dried leaves or, more commonly, as a leaf extract. Erythritol can also be found in nature in some fruits and vegetables. But the erythritol you can buy in stores is typically produced by fermentation of corn, apples, or pears. Both of these sweeteners can be considered natural. Both also share similar benefits.
- No calories
- Not a sugar-based sweetener
- Doesn’t raise blood sugar levels
There are two downsides of Stevia.
- The leaves have a very strong unpleasant aftertaste
- It’s 300 times sweeter than sugar
That’s why stevia leaf extract is often combined with erythritol. That helps the final mixture increase volume and reduce the aftertaste. Both of these sweeteners are good choices and it only depends on which one you prefer when it comes to taste.
Erythritol vs xylitol - which is better?
Both xylitol and erythritol are sugar alcohols. They are also both found naturally in some fruits and vegetables and have a similar taste, texture and volume as sugar. Xylitol has similar benefits to erythritol but not quite the same.
- Not a sugar-based sweetener
- Reduced calorie sweetener
- Smaller impact on blood sugar levels than table sugar but larger than erythritol
The drawback to using xylitol is also similar to erythritol, they both have the potential to cause digestive issues if eaten in large amounts.
In this comparison, erythritol seems like a clear winner. Both of these polyols share the same downside but xylitol contains more calories and influences blood sugar more than erythritol.
Where can you find erythritol?
If you want to take advantage of the benefits of erythritol you can replace some or all of the added sugar in your diet with it. Sugar can be found in so many products these days. Thankfully, you can find sugar-free alternatives. Here are some popular choices.
- Zero-calorie beverages
- Chocolate products
- Sugar-free ice cream, cookies, etc.
- Low-sugar jams
- Sweet baking mixes
You can also buy the sweetener itself and use it for your own baking, in smoothies, or to sweeten your favourite drink.
- Erythritol is a zero-calorie sweetener that doesn’t raise blood sugar and can be used to replace sugar in your diet.
- The European Food Safety Authority considers erythritol safe. But keep in mind that if you eat very large quantities, you can experience digestive issues.
- When used as a sugar substitute, potential benefits may include help managing blood sugar and weight, and supporting dental health.
- There are other sweeteners available that can also be used to cut down on your sugar intake. Erythritol and stevia stand out among the healthiest options.