What Is Erythritol?

Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol, also known as a “polyol,” a chemical combination of both a sugar and alcohol. Despite its suggestive name, sugar alcohols do not resemble the characteristics associated to preconceived alcohol sources of beer, wine, and liquor. Sugar alcohols naturally occur in plant-based fruits and vegetables though commercial manufacturers can essentially manipulate and transform them from a number of glucose syrups. But whether it be from their natural or man-made form, sugar alcohols (such as erythritol) is further incorporated into commercial products. Most commonly, erythritol is used as a nutritive sweetener, suggesting a low-calorie product while still offering sweetness and texture desirability. Ice creams, chewing gums, cookies, and other sweetened goods utilize sugar alcohols and coin themselves as a “sugar-free” or “low-carb” product.

Erythritol Side Effects and Dangers

One of the greatest side effects and dangers from erythritol or sugar alcohol use stems from its route of digestion. Sugar alcohols are not completely broken down in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and causes rising fermentation within the intestines. Though some individuals react to sugar alcohols differently, most will agree they can cause mild to severe GI upset with stomach cramps and diarrhea being prominent consequences. Conversely, the use of erythritol is suggested to cause the slightest GI side effects compared to other sugar alcohols, as only 10 percent of the content is speculated to enter the colon. Individuals managing irritable bowel disease (IBS), a chronic condition that affects the large intestine, are encouraged to be more cautious of sugar alcohols, as the potential for greater GI upset is foreseen in this condition.

But aside from GI upset, any form of sugar substitute or alternative has been warned with caution, largely related to weight gain associations. When food and calories are consumed, they are generally fully digested, fill the stomach, and the brain becomes triggered with an “I’m full” sensation. But since sugar alcohols are not entirely digested, the brain and stomach experience a disconnect, raising the potential for satiety-regulating hormones to not reach their maximum influence. When such hormones (specifically leptin and ghrelin) are not working in their most efficient manner, the body continues to feel hungry, seek out addition foods, and raises the risk of overeating. Large volumes of food, especially when rich in calories, may lead to substantial weight gain overtime.

Is It Good for Health?

But ending on a more positive note, the use of erythritol may be good for health. Its sweetened characteristics are considerably desirable for diabetics watching their sugars, as erythritol also is low on the glycemic index and may lessen the risk of dramatic blood sugar fluctuations. Individuals reducing sugar and calorie content may also benefit from sugar alcohols, considering erythritol contains a low calorie load of 0.2 calories per gram. Additionally, dentists have suggested and encouraged their use to prevent dental decay that likely follows high-sugar intake and poor dental hygiene. But ultimately, with the consumption of sugar-laden products embedded within a general, American diet, backing away from sugar may be quite good for health. Reducing sugar intake can reduce weight gain and associated risks for chronic disease – lessening harmful consequences, with lessened use of common table sugar, further rises the appeal of erythritol and other sugar alcohols.

Importantly, erythritol can be used in a safe manner, though it may be largely dependent on individual tolerances. If sensitive to sugar alcohols or managing IBS, lessen its use or stray away from it altogether. As a general guideline, health experts recommend consuming less than 50 grams of erythritol unless GI upset becomes an unpleasant consequence. Keeping erythritol content in check can naturally occur when consuming whole foods and limiting packaged, convenience products. So instead of relying on those “sugar-free” alternatives to keep blood sugars moderated or the waistline slimmed, balance your diet with whole grains, fresh produce, lean meats, dairy products, beans, nuts and seeds!