In light of an obesity epidemic in the United States, manufacturers are rushing to create new products to meet consumer demands for products that will help fight weight gain. Artificial sweeteners have become popular with consumers, and polyols are among the newest types of sugar replacers. The type of polyol found in Swerve has been used in Japan since 1990. Swerve is promoted as an all-natural sweetener with a great taste and few side effects.
Polyols are also known as sugar alcohols, even though they don’t contain alcohol. This class of sweeteners includes isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol. Erythritol is the polyol used in Swerve, a sugar alternative created by Catherine Wilbert, N.D., for PhytoCeutical Formulations. Erythritol is made by using microorganisms to break down fruits and vegetables, which yields white crystals after a fermentation process. Ordinarily, erythritol isn’t as sweet as sugar, but Dr. Wilbert uses a proprietary formulation that creates a product equivalent to sugar, meaning you can use a cup of Swerve to replace a cup of sugar. Swerve has zero calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates in one teaspoon.
In addition to erythritol, Swerve contains oligofructose, resistant maltodextrin and silicon dioxide. Erythritol is absorbed into the bloodstream before it enters the large intestine and doesn’t cause the laxative and bloating effects that other sugar alcohols can. Oligofructose is a type of carbohydrate known as a fructan that is usually extracted from Jerusalem artichokes. Resistant maltodextrin is a low viscosity, water-soluble, indigestible carbohydrate produced by treating corn starch with acid, enzymes and heat. Silicon dioxide is the most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust and is used in foods to prevent clumping or caking.
Swerve is safe for diabetics because it doesn’t have any effect on insulin or blood sugar levels. A study from December 2003, published in “Nutrition Research Reviews,” found that of all the polyols, erithryitol had the lowest glycemic property, meaning it raised blood sugar levels the least. In that same month, research was published in the “Journal of Biosciences” demonstrating that oligofructose also had a low glycemic response and was able to reduce post-meal blood sugar levels. Resistant maltodextrin was reported to reduce constipation and the boost amounts of healthful bacteria in the large intestine in a study published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition” in April 2008.
All of the ingredients used in Swerve are on the list of foods the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers to be GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe. Although erythritol is the least likely of all the sugar alcohols to cause gastrointestinal upset, large quantities may still produce symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea in sensitive people. There have also been a few isolated reports of mild allergic reactions to erythritol that include itching and hives.
- Ray Sahelian; Erythritol; Ray Sahelian, M.D.
- “Journal of Biosciences”; Applications of Inulin and Oligofructose in Health and Nutrition; N. Kaur and A.K. Gupta; December 2003 (.pdf)
- “Nutrition Research Reviews”; Health Potential of Polyols As Sugar Replacers, with Emphasis on Low Glycaemic Properties; G. Livesey; December 2003