I have no doubt that you’ve seen tons of sugar substitute packets available these days – “Sweet ‘n Low”, “Equal”, “Splenda”, etc… and many fall into the Artificial category. These are chemically created substances used to mimic the taste of sugar, while not having the same calories or glycemic effect. It’s a hotly contested topic these days, as to whether or not these synthesized sweeteners are any more-bad or less-bad than plain old sugar, but that is a topic for a different day. Today I want to talk to you about Sugar Alcohols (aka polyols) and no, this is not the same thing as a bottle of whatever crazy flavor UV is making this week.
Sugar Alcohols, as a general whole, are a class of polyols that are little white water soluable solids (similar to sugar). Unlike substances such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose, sugar alcohols were first found in nature, usually through fermentation. Common sugar alcohols include xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol.
Enter Erythritol. This little sugar alcohol stood out to me for some reason, maybe it’s the hard to pronounce name? I don’t know. What amazes me though is that erythritol is actually a healthy sweetener (and no, I did not just mistype).
- It has no known harmful metabolic effects, unlike sugar
- 90% enters the blood stream via the small intestine and is excreted via urine within 24 hours
- Only ~10% enters the actual colon, so it doesn’t produce the.. unpleasant.. effects of some other sugar substitutes
- Cannot be metabolized by our oral bacteria, so it doesn’t contribute to tooth decay (which is why polyols are commonly used in gums and hard candies)
- [Almost] Non-Caloric (.213 kcal/g) and Non-Glycemic
- It’s literally an Antioxidant!
That last part really makes it amazing to me. Other polyols have also been shown to have this same effect, but erythritol really stands out as being something that could be used longer timer, wider spread. Since erythritol is only 60-70% as sweet as table sugar, it’s often used more as a filler or vessel than a standalone sweetener. Currently it is a co-ingredient of the sugar substitute “Truvia”, sharing the spotlight with the plant based sweetener, stevia. The unfortunate part is that stevia often has an odd taste associated with it, and can be used in excess easily. Lately though, plain erythritol has been used as a common sugar substitute (literally) in baking recipes put together by healthy food bloggers and is slowly making it’s way into the fitness world as well, due to it’s low calorie content. Due to it’s lower sweetness rating, this may prove to be a good option for those who want sweets that aren’t too too sweet.
I’m still a big fan of good old sucrose (table sugar) and definitely prefer it in my tea and cookies, but as erythritol becomes more popular, maybe it will make it’s way into the hearts and diet sodas of people everywhere.