We have written many times that it is time to “tie up” with sugar, but does this mean that we must forget about sweets forever? To be honest, that would be pretty disappointing. Sweetness is a very important element in the gustatory palette and I would not want to impoverish it completely and forever deprive myself of all the desserts invented by mankind. Therefore, the search for the “ideal sweetener” is one of the most pressing problems of nutritional science. We were also puzzled by this question and, having thoroughly studied it, made a choice in favor of a natural sweetener, which is now clearly becoming the leader. It is called erythritol, or erythritol.
What it is?
Erythritol is a so-called polyhydric alcohol, aka sugar alcohol. The general formula of these compounds looks like this: HOCH2 (CHOH) nCH2OH. But for lovers of organic chemistry, the formula of erythritol itself:
There is nothing exotic about sugar alcohols; we encounter them almost every day, for example, when we brush our teeth. The sugar alcohol xylitol is found in toothpaste and chewing gum because it counteracts tooth decay and helps remineralize teeth. Another very common sugar alcohol is sorbitol, a sweetener found in a variety of diet foods – soft drinks, cough syrup, and chewing gum. As the name suggests, all sugar alcohols are sweet, but not the narcotic properties of ethanol.
In its pure form, erythritol is a white powder similar to sugar. It tastes very close to sugar and practically does not have any off-flavors, although in large doses a menthol “chill effect” appears. The sweetness coefficient of erythritol is 0.7 (for sucrose 1). As a sweetener, erythritol is used both pure and mixed with high-intensity sweeteners, primarily stevia, which makes it possible to bring its sweetness in line with ordinary table sugar.
How is erythritol different from other sugar alcohols?
First, a much lower calorie content – depending on the measurement technique, from zero to 0.2 kcal per gram. In the EU countries, according to the directive 2008/100 / EC, the caloric content of erythritol is considered zero. For comparison: the caloric content of xylitol – 2.4 kcal / g, sorbitol – 2.6 kcal / g, sugar – 3.87 kcal / g.
Secondly, the glycemic index is zero. Those. erythritol has no effect on blood sugar levels at all. At the same time, most other sugar alcohols still raise it slightly, although much less than pure sugar. For comparison: the glycemic index of xylitol – 13, sorbitol and isomalt – 9, sucrose – 63, glucose – 100.
Thirdly, an extremely low insulin index. We already wrote that high-intensity synthetic sweeteners can trigger the pancreas to release insulin without even raising blood sugar. Nevertheless, erythritol compares favorably in this respect, its insulin index is 2, i.e. 21.5 times lower than that of sugar (43) and 5.5 times lower than that of xylitol and sorbitol (11). Those. in practice, erythritol has no discernible effect on insulin production. In addition, erythritol has no effect on cholesterol, triglyceride, or other biomarkers. You can read more about this here and here.
Fourth, erythritol is metabolized by the body in a completely different way, and this is perhaps its main difference from other sugar alcohols. The problem with most polyols is that they don’t interact very well with our microbiota, i.e. beneficial bacteria in our intestines. When it comes to very small doses in chewing gum, this is not so scary, but as soon as the dose is increased, troubles in the form of bloating, gas and diarrhea can begin. In addition, recent studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can be harmful to the gut microflora and possibly increase the risk of prediabetes. But erythritol behaves in a completely different way – 90% of it is absorbed into the blood through the walls of the small intestine and after a while leaves our body in the urine. Only 10% of erythritol reaches the part of the intestine where bacteria live, but, as studies have shown (this and this), erythritol is not fermented or digested by them and also comes out naturally.
In addition, like other sugar alcohols, erythritol cannot serve as food for oral bacteria. Moreover, according to a three-year study conducted on 458 school-age children, erythritol even protects teeth from caries, and better than xylitol and sorbitol.
Is erythrotol a “natural” sweetener?
Rather yes than no. It all depends on what you mean by “natural”.
Erythritol exists naturally and is found in small amounts in a number of fruits (eg pears, melons, grapes) and mushrooms. This fundamentally distinguishes it from synthetic sweeteners such as aspartam and sucralose. On the other hand, erythritol crystals do not grow on trees. It is produced industrially by fermenting corn.
Does erythritol have a “dark side”?
Numerous studies have not found any negative effects of erythritol consumption. In all major countries of the world, it is recognized as a safe food additive and is designated as E968. However, keep in mind that in large quantities (over 50 grams at a time), erythritol can act as a laxative. As a safe one-time portion of erythrtitol, manufacturers usually indicate 30 grams, that is, five teaspoons – which, in an amicable way, should be enough for any dessert.
Another positive feature of erythritol is that it is not addictive or addictive like sugar.
As we already wrote, studies (like this and this) show that high intake of artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, so it is better to skip all kinds of light drinks. As far as we know, erythritol does not have such an effect, but it is better to show prudent moderation with it. The fact that a modern Western person gets a dose of sugar in almost any kind of food does not mean at all that after switching to LCHF, you have to pour sweetener everywhere. It is better to consider erythritol as an opportunity to periodically arrange a holiday for yourself and pamper yourself and your loved ones with your favorite desserts. That is, healthy pleasures.