The low-calorie sweetener erythritol may
seem too good to be true. It's natural, doesn't cause side effects
and tastes almost exactly like sugar — without the calories.
Basically, it has all the things that are
good about regular sugar, without any of the negatives, although some media
outlets question its benefits. This evidence-based article reviews the
benefits and possible side effects of erythritol.
What Is Erythritol?
Erythritol belongs to a class of compounds
called sugar alcohols. Many different sugar alcohols are used by
food producers. These include xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol.
Most of them function as low-calorie
sweeteners in sugar-free or low-sugar products. Most sugar alcohols are found in small
amounts in nature, especially in fruits and vegetables.
The way these molecules are structured
gives them the ability to stimulate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue. Erythritol appears to be quite different
from the other sugar alcohols.
To begin with, it contains much fewer
sugar: 4 calories per gram
2.4 calories per gram
0.24 calories per gram
With only 6% of the calories of sugar, it
still contains 70% of the sweetness.
In large-scale production, erythritol is
created when a type of yeast ferments glucose from corn or wheat starch. The
final product looks something like this:
To sum up, erythritol is a sugar alcohol
used as a low-calorie sweetener. It provides only about 6% of the calories
found in an equal amount of sugar.
Is Erythritol Safe?
Overall, erythritol appears to be very
safe. Multiple studies on its toxicity and
effects on metabolism have been performed in animals.
Despite long-term feeding of high amounts of
erythritol, no serious side effects have been detected. There is one major caveat to most sugar
alcohols — they can cause digestive issues.
Due to their unique chemical structure,
your body can’t digest them, and they pass unchanged through most of your
digestive system, or until they reach the colon. In the colon, they are fermented by the
resident bacteria, which produce gas as a side product.
Consequently, eating high amounts of sugar
alcohols may cause bloating and digestive upset. In fact, they belong to a
category of fiber known as FODMAPs.
However, erythritol is different than the
other sugar alcohols. Most of it gets absorbed into the bloodstream before it
reaches the colon. It circulates in the blood for a while,
until it is eventually excreted unchanged in the urine. About 90% of erythritol
is excreted this way. Although erythritol doesn’t have any
serious side effects, eating high amounts may cause digestive upset, as
explained in the next chapter.
To sum up, most of the erythritol you eat
is absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted in urine. It seems to have an
excellent safety profile.
Erythritol Side Effects
About 90% of the erythritol you eat is
absorbed into the bloodstream. The remaining 10% travels undigested down to the
colon. Unlike most sugar alcohols, it seems to be
resistant to fermentation by colon bacteria.
Feeding studies providing up to 0.45 grams
per pound (1 gram per kg) of body weight show that it is very well tolerated. However, one study showed that 50 grams of
erythritol in a single dose increased nausea and stomach rumbling. Unless you're eating massive amounts of it
at a time, it's unlikely to cause a stomach upset. However, erythritol
sensitivity may vary between people.
To sum up, about 10% of ingested erythritol
is not absorbed into the blood and travels down to the colon. For this reason,
a very high intake of erythritol may cause some digestive side effects.
Does Not Spike Blood Sugar or Insulin
Humans don't have the enzymes needed to break down erythritol. It’s absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted unchanged in the urine. When healthy people are given erythritol, there is no change in blood sugar or insulin levels. There is also no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides or other biomarkers.
For those who are overweight or have
diabetes or other issues related to the metabolic syndrome, erythritol appears
to be an excellent alternative to sugar. To sum up, erythritol does not raise blood
sugar levels. This makes it an excellent sugar replacement for people with
May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Studies in diabetic rats show it acts as an
antioxidant, possibly reducing blood vessel damage caused by high blood sugar
levels. Another study in 24 adults with type 2
diabetes found that taking 36 grams of erythritol every day for a month
improved the function of their blood vessels, potentially reducing their risk
of heart disease.
However, erythritol is not without
controversies. One study linked high blood erythritol levels to fat gain in
young adults. More studies are needed before any claims
can be made about the health relevance of these findings.
To sum up, erythritol acts as an
antioxidant and may improve blood vessel function in people with type 2
diabetes. These benefits may potentially reduce the risk of heart disease, but
more studies are needed.
The Bottom Line
Overall, erythritol appears to be an
? It contains almost no
? It has 70% of the
sweetness of sugar.
? It doesn't raise blood
sugar or insulin levels.
? Human studies show very
few side effects, mainly minor digestive issues in some people.
? Studies in which animals
are fed massive amounts for long periods of time show no adverse effects.
Health-conscious people might choose to
sweeten their food with stevia or honey. However, honey contains calories and
fructose, and many people don't appreciate the aftertaste of stevia. Erythritol appears to offer the best of