Erythritol is known as a sugar alcohol. It occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods, but the kind you see added to low-sugar and sugar-free items is man-made. The fermentation of wheat or cornstarch creates a crystalline product that can then be added to foods, much like sugar.
This sugar alcohol has been approved for use as a food additive in the United States since 2001.
Here are some key points about erythritol. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Erythritol seems to cause fewer digestive problems than other sugar alcohols.
- It contains far fewer calories than sugar.
Erythritol is a sugar substitute. It gives the same sweet flavor as sugar, but has fewer calories, and is safer for diabetics.
Eating a diet lower in sugar can help people with diabetes control their condition. Sweeteners like erythritol can make this easier. Research has shown that erythritol doesn't have noticeable effects on blood sugar levels.
Foods sweetened with erythritol are also more likely to have fewer calories than those sweetened with sugar. This sugar alcohol allows you to eat foods and beverages with a sweet flavor, but without negative effects to your waistline.
Erythritol and digestive ailments
Some sugar alcohols can cause digestive distress, as the body doesn't fully absorb these alcohols. But erythritol seems to cause fewer of these problems compared to other sugar alcohols. This may be due to the fact that erythritol is absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted in the urine, instead of going through the colon for excretion.
One study compared the digestive effects of table sugar with erythritol and xylitol, another sugar alcohol. The study subjects who consumed xylitol experienced diarrhea, nausea, and bloating. Those who took erythritol experienced significantly fewer symptoms.
Participants taking 20 and 35 grams of erythritol didn't experience negative effects. These amounts are significantly higher than the 13 grams of erythritol the average American consumes per day.
How to spot erythritol
Food products labeled "sugar-free" or "low-sugar" may contain a sugar substitute such as erythritol. A quick look at the ingredient list can confirm this.
It's also possible that these foods contain other sugar alcohols or substitutes, including:
These ingredients may have different bodily effects than erythritol, particularly on your digestion.
Erythritol is most common in sugar substitutes, like those that use stevia, a naturally sweet plant. It's also found in:
- sugar-free gum
- sports drinks
- sugar-free candies and chocolates
- bakery products, including fondants and creams
Make a habit of reading your food labels to know what additives are used. You can make the healthiest decisions when you're informed about what's in your foods and how those ingredients affect you.