What is Erythritol?
Erythritol belongs to a class of compounds called sugar alcohols.
These molecules are like hybrids of a carbohydrate and an alcohol (it doesn’t contain any ethanol though… the stuff that gets you drunk).
There are many different sugar alcohols. They can be found in natural foods like fruits, but they’re also added to “sugar-free” products of all sorts.
The way these molecules are structured gives them the ability to stimulate the sweet taste receptors on our tongues.
Common sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, to name a few. But erythritol appears to be quite a bit different than the others.
To begin with, it contains much fewer calories:
Table sugar: 4 calories per gram.
Xylitol: 2.4 calories per gram.
Erythritol: 0.24 calories per gram.
With only 6% of the calories of sugar, it still has 70% of the sweetness.
Due to its unique chemical structure, our bodies don’t break it down.
It goes pretty much unchanged through our system, without causing any of the harmful metabolic effects of excess sugar… or the digestive issues associated with other sugar alcohols.
In large scale production, erythritol is created when a type of yeast ferments glucose. The final product looks something like this (photo source):
1.Erythritol Does Not Spike Blood Sugar or Insulin
2.Humans don’t have the enzymes to break down erythritol.
3.It gets absorbed into the bloodstream and is then excreted unchanged in the urine.
When healthy people are given erythritol, there is no change in blood sugar or insulin levels. There is also no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides or other biomarkers.
For people who are overweight, with diabetes or other issues related to the metabolic syndrome, erythritol appears to be an excellent alternative to sugar.
Erythritol Does Not Feed Bacteria in The Mouth
One widely accepted side effect of sugar consumption is poor dental health… cavities and tooth decay.
The harmful bacteria in the mouth can use sugar for energy.
When these bacteria have plenty of energy, they grow, multiply and secrete acids that erode the enamel of the teeth.
Other sugar alcohols like Xylitol have found their way into “tooth-friendly” products, because bacteria can not digest them and use them for energy.
Multiple studies have examined the effects erythritol has on dental caries and the results are mixed. Some studies show a reduction in plaque and the harmful bacteria, while another study shows no actual reduction in caries.
What Happens to Erythritol in The Body?
There is one major caveat to most sugar alcohols… they can cause digestive issues.
Because the body can’t metabolize all of them, some travel to the intestine where they get fed to the bacteria.
But… again, erythritol is different.
Most of it gets absorbed into the body way before it gets to the colon, where most of the bacteria reside.
From the small intestine, it travels into the bloodstream.
There it circulates for a while, until it is eventually excreted unchanged in the urine. About 90% of erythritol gets excreted this way (.
The Bottom Line
Overall, erythritol appears to be an excellent sweetener.
It contains almost no calories.
It has 70% of the sweetness of sugar.
It doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
Human studies show very little side effects… mainly minor digestive issues in some people.
Erythritol appears to have the best of both worlds.