Xylitol is probably the best known sugar alcohol (polyol). It looks and tastes like sugar but has lower calories and a much smaller glycemic index.

 It is a natural product and the human body produces it (about 5 to 15gm per day) as part of normal metabolism, as do many animals and plants. It was discovered in 1890 by Hermann Emil Fischer, a distinguished German chemist.

It occurs in small quantities in some fruit and vegetables, including strawberries and raspberries. The highest natural concentration being in the bark of birch trees. 

It has been used as a sweetener for over 50 years and has been proven to have some beneficial and medicinal effects. However, as with everything else, excessive consumption can cause problems, though none serious.

It does have a slightly laxative effect and it is not recommended to consume more than 50 gm per day. However higher usage tends to lead to a tolerance over a period of time, the body gets used to it. Individuals have consumed large quantities over prolonged periods with no adverse effects at all.

It has fewer calories than sugar. (62% for the same sweetness) It has an excellent taste, comparable to sugar, and very little aftertaste. It has a very low glycemic index (Only 10 - sugar is 65) and this makes it suitable as part of a diabetic diet.

Like all sugar alcohols it is not metabolized by bacteria in the mouth and so it does not contribute to tooth decay. In fact clinical trials have shown it to be very beneficial in dental hygiene, it tends to reduce plaque and delay the onset of tooth decay. It appears to be far superior in this regard than other sugar alcohols, such as Sorbital. Test after test have demonstrated it's effectiveness in reducing caries, bacteria in the gums and plaque.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2676064/

It has also been shown to have other benefits, particularly with regard to the formation of calcium in the bones. It also is used to treat middle ear infections.

As with most sugar alcohols it has a slightly laxative effect if taken in large quantities. This is more so if it is introduced suddenly into the diet, without giving the body time to get used to it. Moderation is the keyword. 50 gm per day should cause no problems at all and still allow the benefits to be achieved.

Safety Guidelines:
No official guidelines are issued for Xylitol. The FDA does not issue an ADI (acceptable daily intake) for sugar alcohols. Nevertheless problems have occurred, including weight loss, for individuals who consumed large quantities over sustained periods. 50g daily is the generally agreed upper limit. Note: Some people can be allergic to this sugar alcohol, and it is very toxic to dogs, just a few sticks of gum could prove potentially fatal.Source: http://www.drugs.com/npp/xylitol.html

CSPI (US) Recommendation

The recommendation issued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (US) for this substance is - CUT BACK

There are many ways of producing it. The most natural, but least cost effective is to extract it from birch. But most of what is commercially available could hardly be considered natural due to the method of production: This involves the chemical hydrogenation of D-xylose into xylitol by the presence of a nickel catalyst. This is usually sourced from GMO corn. 

Sold As:
Polysweet. Xylosweet. A product produced in Canada called Xyla is made from North American Hardwood trees in a process the manufacturers claim is natural. Worth the extra cost if the claims are true.

How Expensive?
Available in most health food stores.. On the commodity market it is close to the price of sugar, costing about 82% the price for the same unit of sweetness.

 Xylitol Market Share:
In 2012 it  sold approx 0.2 million tonnes equivalent out of a total world market of approx 188 million tonnes. (Sugar was about 155 million tonnes) This would give it about 0.11% of the total market by unit of sweetness. By value it would be slightly more.

Interesting Facts:
It is used in chewing gum, cough syrups, lozenges, toothpaste and mouthwashes. It produces a cooling effect in the mouth. This is desirable in the case of chewing gum and produces a refreshing effect. It is also very suitable for medicine and toothpaste but less so for chocolate.

Discovered in 1890 it was first widely used in Finland as a sugar substitute during the shortages of World War 2. Became more widely used in the 1960s when the dental hygiene benefits began to be noticed.

It is approved for use in most countries. Approved by the FDA in 1963 as a food additive. Approved as E967 in the EU.


Conclusions for Xylitol

It is a useful sugar substitute, but it does not contain zero carbs. One spoon of sugar contains 16 calories. To achieve the same sweetness it would be necessary to consume 10 calories of Xylitol. This is a saving, but not very much. Erythritol (also a sugar alcohol) at only 1 calorie for the same sweetness is a much better substitute in this regard.

On the plus side it tastes good, is tooth friendly, has a low glycemic index, contains no fructose and is not too expensive.

Avoid over consumption.

Name Calories / Gram Sweetness Index Glycemic Index Calories / Spoon-Equiv
Xylitol 2.4 1 12 10

Taste: -------- Good
Aftertaste: ---- No
Concerns: ----- No

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