Q. I sometimes use erythritol in oatmeal or protein shakes for some sweetness. From what I understand, erythritol is natural and has zero glycemic impact. Is there any reason you wouldn’t recommend it?
Erythritol is typically made by extracting starch from genetically modified corn, or corn cobs, then breaking it down, via a process called hydrolysis, into glucose molecules. The sugar is then fermented by a fungus and may go through several processes to clarify, purify and crystallize the finished product into white granules or powder that resembles sugar.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol. Other sugar alcohols are known as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates. These sugar alcohols are also made via the hydrogenation of glucose, mannose and xylose. Adding hydrogen atoms to sugars results in a bleached, powdery blend of sugar alcohols that are not absorbed by the body, but taste sweet. Here’s the lowdown…
Pros of Sugar Alcohols
- They are low calorie.
- They have not been found to affect blood sugar or insulin levels and have a zero glycemic index.
- They taste sweet.
- They may be beneficial to dental health.
Cons of Sugar Alcohols
- They contain few nutrients.
- Too much un-absorbed sugar alcohol traveling through the intestinal tract can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Just what you need from a sweetener, right? A hydrogen gut bomb!
- Many people experience stomach upset and headache after consuming sugar alcohols.
- Because sugar alcohols pass through the body largely undigested, you won’t experience the same satiating signals as you would with food. This means you may be left feeling hungry and are more likely to eat more. Even worse, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols may actually stimulate appetite.
- Future research may find that sugar alcohols alter gut flora and disrupt biofilms, which may be problematic for some people.
I don’t know about you, but when I eat something sweet, I want to be satisfied and feel safe that the food I am eating will provide nutrients to my body, not potentially harmful compounds. Until more studies come out, I would be more inclined to reach for something sweet that is unrefined and nutrient dense such as fruit, raw honey, and grade B maple syrup.