Have you noticed erythritol popping up on food labels? Erythritol is a sugar alcohol (FYI: any compound ending in -ol is a sugar alcohol) used to sweeten foods, beverages, and other food items.
Erythritol is made from fermented corn or wheat and has a granular, white appearance similar to table sugar. Erythritol is considered a natural product, the processing it undergoes is similar to regular cane sugar.
Erythritol, what’s the hype?
Erythritol has 70% of the sweetness of sugar with only 0.24 calories per gram. To compare, regular sugar has 4 calories per gram.
Erythritol is not digested or absorbed in our body, so you get similar sweetness without the calorie burden of regular sugar. The majority if this sweetener is absorbed into the bloodstream before it reaches the colon, where bacteria ferment the undigested product.
Ok, what’s the catch?
If you remember your science classes, fermentation yields gas! Erythritol can cause abdominal bloating, distention, gas, and diarrhea. If you follow a low FODMAP (fermentable fructo-oligosaccharide-disaccharide-monosaccharide-and-polyols) diet to reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions, erythritol is not for you.
Is erythritol safe?
That being said, erythritol is on the FDA GRAS list, which means it is generally recognized as safe for human consumption. No clinical studies exist that suggest long-term negative effects with realistic amounts of erythritol use. Research also suggests that erythritol does not affect insulin or blood sugar levels. Erythritol can also improve dental health by not feeding the bacteria in your mouth, similar to Xylitol.
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Can you substitute erythritol in recipes?
Cooking with erythritol requires some adjustments, it does not caramelize like sugar and can leave baked goods watery or moist. In large quantities, erythritol can have a cooling sweetness with a minty taste. There is a slight texture difference between erythritol and sugar, so try using a powdered version if you need that smooth texture while baking.
A Sweeter Diet
Erythritol has become more popular as the low-carb and keto movements have taken off. Erythritol can be a part of a healthy diet, especially if you are looking to lighten up certain sweet treats.
What’s your verdict on this sweet alternative?
Caroline is a Clinical Registered Dietitian for MedStar Health and Hospital Systems in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Masters Degree in Dietetics from San Jose State University and moved back to Charm City to be with her fiancee. When she’s not providing medical nutrition therapy to her patients, Caroline enjoys cooking, waterfront walks and crab-anything (crab pizza is the best!).