Some foods, including grapes, watermelon, pears, fermented products and mushrooms, contain erythritol naturally. Manufacturers also use erythritol as an artificial sweetener; it's sold under the brand name Truvia. Although erythritol can act as an insecticide, according to a study published in "PLOS One" in June 2014, it doesn't appear to be toxic to humans. Erythritol is generally recognized as safe, but consuming it in large amounts may cause some side effects.
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When consumed in high amounts, erythritol may cause some adverse effects, including increased thirst, cramps, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea. These effects may be more likely to occur in men than in women, according to an opinion published in March 2003 by the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission's Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General. The effects typically resolve themselves within a day of consuming large quantities of erythritol.
Some people have concerns that artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of cancer. However, there is no clear evidence that any artificial sweetener approved by the Food and Drug Administration causes cancer in humans, according to the National Cancer Institute. During the toxicity testing for erythritol, no evidence of a carcinogenic effect was found, according to the 2003 opinion by the Scientific Committee on Food.
During the safety testing for erythritol, studies using mice, rats and rabbits didn't find any evidence of reproductive toxicity. Even at high doses, erythritol doesn't appear to cause birth defects, fertility problems or other reproductive problems, according to the 2003 opinion by the Scientific Committee on Food.
To avoid diarrhea, women shouldn't consume more than 0.3 gram of erythritol per pound of body weight, and men shouldn't consume more than 0.2 gram per pound of body weight. These were the amounts found to bring on diarrhea in subjects of a human study published in the "Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology" in 2007. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should limit yourself to no more than 30 to 45 grams of erythritol each day, depending on your gender. The FDA estimates that average erythritol intake is 13 grams a day, and that 90 percent of people consume 30 grams a day or less. Young people who drink a lot of erythritol-sweetened beverages are the most likely to consume enough erythritol to experience side effects, according to the 2003 opinion by the Scientific Committee on Food.
- European Commission, Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General, Scientific Committee on Food: Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on Erythritol
- PLOS ONE: Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide
- DrexelNOW: Drexel Scientists Find Common Sweetener Is a Safe Insecticide
- Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology: Threshold for Transitory Diarrhea Induced by Ingestion of Xylitol and Lactitol in Young Male and Female Adults
- National Cancer Institute: Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer