What Is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol that is found in fruits and vegetables. Our bodies also produce xylitol in small amounts through natural metabolic processes.
Xylitol has several different uses. As a sugar alcohol, xylitol serves as a low-calorie alternative to sugar.
Since xylitol is found in fruit and vegetables, where do we harvest it?
Xylitol is derived from either birch trees or corn cobs. Sourcing xylitol from corn cobs is cheaper and less damaging to the environment.
But wait! Xylitol is a lot more than just a natural sweetener.
Xylitol has moisturizing properties and is used in certain medications.
It is an ingredient in nasal sprays targeting dryness and irritated passageways. Xylitol has made a name for itself in the field of oral hygiene. In fact, this is the most well researched medical use of xylitol.
Xylitol’s ability to stop bacteria from adhering to surfaces can help keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy.(Source)
The History of Xylitol
Xylitol was first isolated over 100 years ago at the beginning of the 19th century. French and German scientists discovered xylitol through subjecting wood sugar to a chemical reduction process.
Due to limitations of the era, this form of xylitol was not entirely pure. It also contained traces of other sugar alcohols.
It was only during World War II that xylitol was successfully crystallized and purified. At the time, xylitol was regarded as just one of the many sweet carbohydrates isolated by organic chemists.
Towards the end of the war xylitol began to be produced in countries facing war-related sugar shortages. Finland was the first country to begin producing xylitol on a small scale. (Source)
Xylitol production and research was put on pause as World War II came to an end. Finland began actively researching xylitol’s effects on plague in the 1970’s.
Shortly after, the first xylitol-based chewing gum was released. From then onwards, dental associations across the globe endorsed xylitol as a safe sweetener. (Source)
Xylitol is used in foods and beverages as a natural low calorie sweetener. Xylitol is also found in various toothpastes and chewing gums.
Unfortunately, xylitol has few – if any – nutritional benefits. 4 grams of xylitol is worth approximately 10 calories.
It does not contain any minerals or vitamins, and is devoid of fatty acids and carbohydrates. (Source)
Xylitol’s health benefits are primarily related to improving oral hygiene. Unlike regular sugar, xylitol does not ferment. It does not create an acidic environment in the mouth ideal for bacteria.
Xylitol is a Bacteria Fighter
Xylitol’s most notable property is its ability to fight Streptococcus Mutans, the bacteria that forms cavities.
Daily use of xylitol has been shown to diminish S. Mutans by upwards of 70 percent. Aside from neutralizing acids, xylitol reduces salivary flow.
Xylitol and Cavity Prevention
Although preventable, tooth decay is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions today. Approximately 1 out of 5 Americans suffer from untreated cavities.
A multitude of studies have established that regularly use of xylitol can help percent cavity formation. Xylitol can reduce the incidence of tooth decay from 30 percent to 80 percent.
Xylitol isn’t just capable of preventing cavities. Exposing untreated cavities to xylitol can cause decaying areas to become less sensitive.
Xylitol’s beneficial oral properties are not temporary. A long-term study monitored 300 children who chewed xylitol gum regularly for two years.
Even after stopping chewing xylitol gum, a portion of the children benefited from reduced tooth decay over five years.
You might be wondering if xylitol found in food and beverages have any beneficial effects.
Xylitol has a glycemic index (GI) of 13. In comparison, sucrose has a GI of 65. Glucose has an even higher GI of 100.
Individuals with conditions like obesity and diabetes must be careful about sugar intake. For this reason, xylitol is recommended as an ideal low calorie sweetener.
Xylitol as an Antidiabetic
Xylitol also has potential as an antidiabetic. A study investigated the effects of feeding xylitol to rats. One group of rats was fed xylitol, the other group was fed sugar. The control group was fed neither sugar nor xylitol.
The rats that consumed xylitol developed improved glucose tolerance. The xylitol rats also had decreased appetite and less weight gain than the other groups.
Xylitol can also prevent growth of Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacterium is responsible for ear and sinus infections.
Xylitol prevents S. pneumoniae from adhering to tissue and forming bacteria colonies. This enhances the effectiveness of treatments for ear and nasal passageway infections.
Clinical trials monitored the effect of xylitol given to young children in syrup or gum. Up to 40 percent of children had reduced infections of the middle ear.
Researchers have found that exposure is more important than quantity when it comes to xylitol. You can chew xylitol gum after meals or use xylitol toothpaste on a daily basis for maximum benefits. (Source)
Is Xylitol Paleo-Friendly?
Read our guide to the Paleo diet.
The Paleo diet is based on one simple concept: you can eat only what was available to our Paleolithic ancestors thousands of years ago.
It’s easier than you think. A lot of the foods we eat today are heavily processed and lack essential nutrients.
Before the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, our diets were dramatically different. Our Paleolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers, meaning they ate only what could be caught or harvested in the wild.
The Paleo diet isn’t about restricting calories or strict meal planning. Your meals will be satisfying as well as nutritionally rich.
Cutting out foods that are high in sugars and carbohydrates has a multitude of health benefits. Essentially, everything you can eat on the Paleo diet will benefit your body. You won’t be consuming empty calories that have little to no nutritional benefits.
Here are the foods you can eat in abundance:
● Meats of all types (preferably grass-fed and organic)
● Fish (preferably wild, not farmed)
● Natural oils (olive oil, coconut oil, etc)
These are foods that you can eat in moderation:
● Nuts (except for peanuts)
● Fruit (avoid sugary fruits like pineapples and pears)
● Dairy (as raw as possible – nothing processed)
Lastly, these are foods that you will be avoiding entirely:
● Grain-based foods
● Sugary snacks and drinks
● Processed foods (i.e. frozen food and fast food)
It’s pretty simple to know what is and isn’t Paleo. If the product is manufactured or processed in any way, don’t eat it. (Source)
Is Xylitol Paleo?
The opinion as to whether xylitol is considered Paleo is divided. Some Paleo followers use xylitol on occasion as a substitute for sugar. Others avoid xylitol entirely, as it is still a form of sugar. (Source)
Is Xylitol Keto-Friendly?
Read our guide to the keto diet.
The ketogenic diet is all about promoting the metabolic state ketosis. Ketosis is a state the body enters when it is low on food.
During ketosis, the liver breaks down fat and burns ketones. Your body then uses these ketones as energy.
Don’t worry, the ketogenic diet isn’t about dangerous calorie restriction. The only thing your body will be starved for is carbohydrates.
Most people eat foods that are high in carbohydrates. When you eat carbohydrates, your body burns glucose as energy.
When glucose is your body’s prime source of energy, fat gets stored. Glucose is the easiest compound for your body to burn as energy.
The ketogenic diet encourages eating satisfying, nutritionally rich foods. You will be avoiding processed foods that are high in carbohydrates.
The eventual goal is for your body to enter ketosis. The body will burn fat as energy instead of glucose.
The more you restrict your intake of carbohydrates, the better. Your body will enter ketosis at a faster rate.
Here are the foods you can on the ketogenic diet:
● Leafy green vegetables
● Vegetables that grow above the ground
● Meats (preferably grass fed or organic)
● Fatty dairy (butter, hard cheeses, etc)
● Nuts and seeds
● Healthy fats (i.e. coconut and olive oil)
These are the foods you should avoid:
● All grain-based products
● All fruits (except berries and avocados) (Source)
Xylitol can be consumed on a keto diet. However, consume in limited quantities. An excess of xylitol can produce a laxative effect. (Source)
Is Xylitol AIP-Friendly?
Read our guide to the AIP diet.
AIP stands for Autoimmune System Protocol. The AIP diet is an elimination diet. It aims to reduce inflammation in the body from autoimmune disorders.
There are over 80 official autoimmune system disorders. Symptoms vary, but they all have one aspect in common. These conditions cause the immune system to self-attack.
Although autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, flare-ups can be avoided. On the AIP diet, you will eat foods that do not inflame the intestines.
Through soothing the intestines, inflammation in the rest of the body can be reduced. The AIP diet has two phases.
The first phase of the diet lasts from 6 to 8 weeks. During this phase, all foods and beverages classified as irritants are eliminated.
The second phase of the diet allows you to reintroduce foods. A warning: you must proceed carefully. Introduce foods one at a time, gradually. This way you can clearly identify what foods irritate your gut.
The first phase of the AIP diet is very restrictive.
During this phase, you will avoid the following foods and beverages:
● Dairy products
● Grain-based products
● Processed foods
● Seed-based herbs (i.e. coriander, mustard, etc)
● Seed-based teas
● Vegetable oils (exempting coconut, olive, and palm oil)
● Dried fruits
● Alternative sweeteners
● Nightshade vegetables
● Alcoholic beverages
Chances are you consume some if not all of these items regularly. Your favorites can be re-introduced (carefully) after 6-8 weeks.
On the AIP diet, you can eat and drink:
● Fruits (on occasion)
● Fermented foods
● Non-seed teas
● Natural sweeteners such as honey
● Meats (preferably grass feed or organic)
● Bone broth
● Fresh, non-seed herbs
● Non-processed coconut products
Xylitol is an alternative sweetener. Therefore, it is not allowed on the AIP diet. (Source)
How To Use Xylitol
You can use xylitol as an alternative to sugar or to improve oral health. Additionally, xylitol-based nasal sprays can help keep your sinuses clear.
Xylitol can be found in toothpastes, mouthwashes and chewing gums.
Xylitol’s benefits on oral health do not rely on dosage. Older studies suggested between 6 and 10 grams of xylitol a day.
We now know that xylitol’s advantages rely more on exposure. If you want to improve oral health, aim to use products high in xylitol.
Xylitol is a sweetener in various foods and beverages. These items can also contain other chemicals and sweeteners. The efficacy of xylitol may be counteracted if the product contains acids.
Ideally, you should expose your mouth to xylitol between 4 and 5 times a day. Remember, xylitol starves the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
So what’s the sweet spot for xylitol use?
Start your day with a xylitol toothpaste or mouthwash. Have a piece of xylitol gum or a xylitol mint after meals. Before bed, use the same xylitol toothpaste or mouthwash.
Substitute your preferred sugary gum or mint with one that is xylitol-based. You can also sweeten your morning coffee or tea with xylitol. (Source)
Xylitol can be consumed as an alternative to sugar. If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, you can use xylitol as a replacement.
A word of warning: when it comes to xylitol, don’t overdo it. Excess xylitol consumption is known to cause side effects.
At dosages of over 40 grams a day, xylitol can cause:
● Gastric distress (diarrhea and frequent bowel movements)
● Bloating and abdominal cramps
Studies have also examined the relationship between artificial sweeteners and weight gain. Artificial sweeteners, xylitol included, are much sweeter than sugar.
If you consume them in excess, desensitization may occur. This means you may find healthy, unsweetened foods less appealing.
Especially for those with a sweet-tooth, moderation is important. Sweeteners of all types shouldn’t be the bulk of your diet.
One disadvantage of xylitol is that it is highly toxic to pets. Dogs in particular are susceptible to xylitol poisoning.
When dogs consume xylitol, it is rapidly absorbed into the blood. After absorption, a dangerous amount of insulin is released. Blood sugar then drops dramatically, which can be fatal.
On that note, make sure never to give your pets any food that contains xylitol. A small treat can cause big problems.
By now you’ll have realized that xylitol has advantages and disadvantages. In oral or nasal health products, use as medically instructed. As a sweetener, use in moderation! (Source)
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