Updated: Feb 4, 2022
There’s an ingredient that’s getting a lot more attention these days for its ability to substitute for sugar in food. It’s xylitol! Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in most plant material, including many fruits and vegetables, and in small amounts in our bodies. The best part: it looks and tastes like sugar and helps prevent cavities and tooth plaque! It can also help fight ear infections in adults and children 5 and older, has fewer calories (40% less!), and doesn’t raise sugar levels.
While xylitol is a sugar alcohol, it is not like the alcohol that leads to being drunk. Sugar alcohols are safe for children and adults alike. It’s also safe for diabetics because it doesn’t have any of the negative effects that sugar or high-fructose corn syrup have, which can spike blood sugar and insulin levels.
You may have already had xylitol without knowing it. Commercially produced from birch bark and corn cob, xylitol is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as a safe alternative to sugar. Other than fruits like strawberries and raspberries and vegetables like mushrooms and cauliflower, you can find it in many “sugar free” gums and candies. It’s also found commonly in oral health products like breath mints, mouthwash, and toothpaste.
So how does xylitol help improve dental health? One of the leading factors of tooth decay and creating plaque is an oral bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. Excessive plaque encourages your immune system to attack the bacteria, which can lead to inflammatory gum diseases like gingivitis. This oral bacteria feeds on glucose from food on your teeth, but they can’t use xylitol, starving the harmful bacteria. Studies currently show that when xylitol replaces sugar in your diet, cavities and tooth decay are reduced by 30-85%.
You can purchase xylitol in the grocery store near sugars and other sweeteners.
Note: Xylitol is toxic for dogs, so be sure to keep it and foods that contain it away from your furry friends.