Q. Is it safe to use xylitol as a sugar substitute?
A. Yes, xylitol is a safe sweetener. It is a type of sugar that occurs naturally in strawberries, raspberries, plums and some vegetables. Your body also can make it. It is very different from ordinary table sugar. It has one-third the calories and has the added bonus of having antibacterial properties. The xylitol that is added to foods as a low-calorie sweetener is derived from birch trees and has been called “birch sugar.” It is about as sweet as table sugar and doesn’t have an unpleasant aftertaste, as some sugar substitutes do.
You can find a number of xylitol-sweetened products on the market, including chewing gum, sports bars, and candy. I’ve tried a maple syrup sweetened with xylitol that tasted just like the real thing. If you have a sweet tooth but want to avoid the unhealthy effects that ordinary table sugar can have in your diet, this may sound too good to be true. But there is one unpleasant side effect: you can experience diarrhea if you consume too much xylitol.
Diabetics can use xylitol because it is slowly absorbed, preventing rapid rises in blood sugar that require more insulin. The more quickly a food converts to glucose (the simplest sugar) in your body, the higher its glycemic index. If you are diabetic you should ingest low-glycemic foods. Xylitol has a glycemic index of 8; table sugar, or sucrose, has a glycemic index of 61.
Xylitol has other benefits as well. A great way to decrease dental cavities and ear infections in children is to give them chewing gum sweetened with xylitol. A number of studies have found that xylitol chewing gum inhibits the growth of oral bacteria that contribute to cavities.
A study published in the British Medical Journal reported that when children were given chewing gum sweetened with xylitol they had a significant decrease in the incidence of acute ear infections (otitis media). The researchers concluded that xylitol reduced the growth of streptococcus, a bacterium that is a major cause of ear infections.
Nasal sprays containing xylitol have been developed to help prevent sinus infections. When you are traveling on an airplane you can use a nasal spray containing xylitol to prevent bacteria from flourishing in your sinuses. You can purchase a xylitol nasal spray at www.xlear.com or ask your local pharmacy to carry it.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com