Xylitol is a white odourless crystalline powder that has been used as a sweetening agent in food for over 40 years.
The substance occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables and is even produced by the human body during normal metabolism.
It has a pleasant, sweet taste (the same sweetness and bulk as sucrose) but contains one-third fewer calories – around 2.4 kcal/g.
It dissolves quickly and, unlike other sugar alcohols, leaves/produces a cooling sensation in the mouth.
Xylitol is currently approved for use as an alternative to sugar in a range of foods and pharmaceutical/oral health products in more than 35 countries due largely to its role in combating tooth decay , including:
- Chewing gums
- Throat lozenges
- Cough medicines and
Benefits of Xylitol
There are several proven benefits of Xylitol:
Helps prevent development of dental caries
Use of xylitol is known to help prevent the development of dental caries (tooth decay).
Clinical tests have shown that consumption of xylitol-sweetened foods between meals significantly cuts formation of new caries, even in those who already practice good oral hygiene. It also inhibits the growth of S. mutans – the primary bacterium associated with dental caries.
Cuts plaque formation
Studies carried out in the United States to analyse the effect of xylitol and sorbitol blends in chewing gum and mints on dental plaque (the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease ) showed a considerable decline in plaque growth.
Stimulates salivary flow
Saliva is important as it helps with cleaning and protecting teeth from decay.
Products sweetened with xylitol such as mints and chewing gum produce a pleasant cooling effect which, combined with their sweetness, creates an increase in salivary flow that helps repair damaged tooth enamel.
Helpful for diabetics
Xylitol may be useful as an alternative to sugar for people with diabetes as it does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels, and has a reduced caloric value (2.4 kcal/g compared to 4.0 for sucrose), which is consistent with the objective of weight control.
Before opting for foods sweetened with sugar alcohols such as xylitol, diabetics should discuss the usefulness of these polyols with their GP/diabetes specialist as some of these products may contain other ingredients which may not be suitable for a diabetes-based diet
The Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union (EU) states that xylitol is safe and ‘acceptable’ for use in foods for special dietary uses, while the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) – a prestigious scientific advisory body to the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations – has allocated an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of’ not specified’ for xylitol, the safest category in which JECFA can place a food additive.