With people kicking their sugar habit, sugar-free or low-sugar packaged foods still have most of us scratching our heads. Thanks to commonly used sugar alcohols like erythritol, your bag of cookies can contain barely any sugar yet still quench your demanding sweet tooth.
What Is Erythritol?
Despite their name, sugar alcohols (or polyols) — such as erythritol, glycerol and xylitol — don't actually contain any alcohol, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Unlike other sweeteners, like honey or sugar, sugar alcohols are low-calorie and can significantly decrease the number of calories in the foods you eat. Not to mention, they're low in carbohydrates, which is why they star in many keto-friendly treats.
Erythritol may be a common player on the ingredient labels of your "sugar-free" chewing gum, diet soda, candy or low-sugar desserts, according to the ADA. Erythritol is regulated by the FDA and is safe to consume.
Side Effects of Erythritol
Sugar alcohols are commonly confused with artificial sweeteners, which has led to concerns about erythritol's safety in food. However, sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners (like saccharin and aspartame) are not the same, according to Yale New Haven Health. Whereas artificial sweeteners contain zero calories and have been inconclusively associated with certain cancers, sugar alcohols are totally safe for consumption, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While erythritol is safe to consume, it has been known to cause digestive issues when eaten in large amounts, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people may experience a laxative effect, bloating or intestinal gas after eating too much sugar alcohol content.
If you have diabetes, keep an eye on the carb count of sugar-alcohol-sweetened food. Unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols are carbohydrates and can raise blood sugar levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your body doesn't completely absorb sugar alcohols and they may have a less significant effect on your blood sugar than other sweeteners. Nevertheless, consult a doctor or dietitian before consuming them.
Unlike other forms of sugar, erythritol (and other sugar alcohols) doesn't contribute to tooth decay or cavities. The ingredient is also commonly used in weight-loss promoting foods due to the relatively low calorie count.
Read more: Three-Ingredient Low Sugar Desserts
The Verdict on Erythritol
Before you hop on the sugar alcohol bandwagon, consider both the positive and negative effects of erythritol. While this sweetener is low-calorie, safe to consume and won't cause cavities, it may result in digestive issues and has a small effect on blood sugar. Decide whether to add erythritol-sweetened products to your grocery list based on your personal health goals or concerns.