Is xylitol (birch sugar) healthy or harmful?

Xylitol is a sweetener obtained from birch that is becoming increasingly popular. Learn about its properties, nutritional value, and advantages and disadvantages.

Chemically speaking, xylitol is a member of the class of substances known as polyols or sugar alcohols. Sorbitol, mannitol, and erythritol are among the other substances in this group. Since birch bark was once the source of xylitol, it is also known as birch sugar. Currently, corn and deciduous trees are also sources of xylitol.

Birch sugar has long been used as a food additive, marked with the symbol E967. You will find it, among others, in chewing gum or candy, where it plays the role of a sweetener.

Xylitol properties

Xylitol is a sweetener that is resistant to high temperatures and can be used as a sugar substitute in sweet pastries, except for yeast dough, which does not grow on birch sugar. It is the most important factor for healthy eating.

Birch sugar can be used for:

  • sweetening tea,
  • sweet pastries,
  • production of jams, preserves,
  • for desserts.

xylitol kcal

Xylitol has a 40% lower calorific value than sugar, meaning it provides 40% fewer calories in 1 g.

  • 1 teaspoon of xylitol = 12 kcal
  • 1 teaspoon of white sugar = 20 kcal

Drink 3 teas a day with xylitol and consume 24 kcal less, reducing the total energy value of the diet by 24 kcal.

Xylitol: glycemic index

Xylitol has a low glycemic index of 8, which is important for people with diabetes and those trying to lose weight. It does not cause a rapid drop in blood sugar or insulin release, which can lead to hunger pangs. Replacing sugar with xylitol can be beneficial.

Is xylitol healthy?

Xylitol has many health-promoting activities, such as not causing a rapid increase in blood glucose levels and being safe during pregnancy. It also sweetens, prevents caries, increases calcium absorption, acts as a prebiotic, and facilitates the mineralization of bones. Opinions on its use are divided, so it is important to know why and how to include it in your diet.

Is birch sugar harmful?

Xylitol should be introduced gradually, and the safe dose is 15 g per day. Birch sugar is not recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome. It is not harmful for humans, but is harmful to pets.

Xylitol for children

Only after the age of three can xylitol be introduced into a child’s diet. This is because it can irritate the digestive system of young children. However, it can be used in the elderly and has health benefits:

  • reduces the caloric content of the diet, preventing overweight and obesity,
  • does not contribute to the formation of caries,
  • supports the saturation of bones with calcium, which is especially important during periods of intensive growth of children.

It is important to note, however, that it cannot be given to children in excess. The safe (non-irritating) dose of xylitol for children has not been established; the adult dose is 15 g per day, so it must be much lower for children.

Xylitol and sugar

The glycemic index and calorific value of xylitol and sugar are different, with sugar being pre-digested and fermented in the mouth and small intestine, while xylitol is partially absorbed in the intestines and metabolized in the liver and partially fermented in the large intestine.

glycemic index (xylitol: 8, sugar: 66)

Unlike sugar, xylitol does not require insulin. While sugar contributes to the formation of caries, xylitol does not. There is one more distinction: sugar is a nutrient for yeast, whereas xylitol is not, so xylitol cannot be used in yeast dough.

To summarize, which is better for you: sugar or xylitol? Because of the properties listed above, xylitol is a better choice not only for diabetics and people on a slimming diet.



4th Professional Medical Student. Karachi Medical and Dental College.

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