What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring low-calorie sweetener found in fruits, vegetables and certain hardwoods. Our bodies can produce up to 15 grams of Xylitol from other foods we ingest daily. This sweetener is not a newcomer in the marketplace. Initially discovered by a German scientist in 1891, sugar shortages caused by World War II stimulated a group of innovative folks from Finland to rediscover this wonderful sugar substitute. They called it “koivusokeri” or “birch sugar” because they derived it from a fiber found in birch tree bark. By the 1960s, Xylitol was being used in Europe, the Soviet Union and Japan. Today it’s used in the USA as a sweetener that’s approved by the FDA and the ADA. Though Xylitol is commercially manufactured from the cellulose of wood, cane pulp, seed hulls or cornhusk; NOW Foods Xylitol is made from cornhusk.
What’s the difference between Xylitol and regular table sugar?
Xylitol is technically not a sugar but rather a sugar alcohol (polyol). Unlike other well-known sugars like sucrose, fructose, sorbitol and dextrose that have 6 carbon atoms, Xylitol contains only 5 carbon atoms. Unlike sugar Xylitol is slowly absorbed, does not cause a rapid blood sugar increase and does not require an immediate insulin response from the body to be metabolized. Its unique characteristic accounts for the fact that this reduced calorie sweetener boasts 40% less caloric impact at 2.4 calories per gram versus 4 calories for sugar. Xylitol provides approximately the same sweetness as sugar with a slight cool sensation.
Are there any other health benefits that can attributed to Xylitol?
Many Clinical and field tests have proven that the consumption of Xylitol combined with proper oral hygiene significantly reduces new dental caries (cavities). It accomplishes this anti-cavity function via a couple of mechanisms. Food containing refined sugar is an energy source for bacteria like Streptococcus mutans that quickly multiply and produce harmful acids. When the pH of the bacterial laden saliva drops too far below a safe neutral level of 7, the calcium and phosphate elements of your tooth enamel start to dissolve and form small pores. This is the beginning of cavity formation. Because it doesn’t ferment, Xylitol is not a food source for these acid-producing bacteria. The bacteria count is reduced, the healthy neutral pH of the saliva is preserved and cavity formation is stopped in its tracks. Xylitol increases the flow of our naturally alkaline saliva that’s used to rinse the teeth of acids as well as helping to remineralize the enamel.