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Xylitol and Diabetes

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols are sweeteners that produce a smaller rise in blood glucose levels than other carbohydrates. Other sugar alcohols include erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, and sorbitol.

Xylitol also provides added benefits that other sweeteners do not. Xylitol is lower in calories than sugar and is shown not to raise blood sugar levels or cause hyperglycemia. In addition, Xylitol has the added benefit of promoting oral health. Diabetics are at an increased risk of oral health issues, such as thrush and candidiasis (which can be fatal). Xylitol, and xylitol-containing products, may assist in the prevention and management of these health issues.

Control of blood glucose, lipids and weight are three major goals of diabetes management. Xylitol is slowly absorbed -- so when xylitol is used, the rise in blood glucose and insulin response associated with the ingestion of glucose is significantly reduced. The reduced caloric value (2.4 calories per gram versus 4.0 for sugar) of xylitol is consistent with the objective of weight control. Xylitol is considered a diabetic-friendly alternative to other sugars.

Xylitol is approved in more than 35 countries, its sweetness and bulk make it an increasingly popular ingredient in foods, pharmaceuticals and oral health products.

Xylitol Facts

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Nutritional Information for Xylitol

Per 4-gram Serving:

History of Xylitol

Discovered by German chemist Emil Fischer in 1891, xylitol has been used as a sweetening agent in human food since the 1960s. Xylitol is a white crystalline powder that is odorless, with a pleasant, sweet taste. It is gaining increasing acceptance as an alternative sweetener due to its role in reducing the development of dental caries (cavities).

Xylitol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables and is even produced by the human body during normal metabolism. Produced commercially from plants such as birch and other hard wood trees and fibrous vegetation, xylitol has the same sweetness and bulk as sucrose with one-third fewer calories and no unpleasant aftertaste. It quickly dissolves and produces a cooling sensation in the mouth.

Xylitol is currently approved for use in foods, pharmaceuticals and oral health products in more than 35 countries. Xylitol is used in foods such as chewing gum, gum drops and hard candy, and in pharmaceuticals and oral health products such as throat lozenges, cough syrups, children's chewable multivitamins, toothpastes and mouthwashes. In the United States, xylitol is approved as a direct food additive for use in foods for special dietary uses.

Dental and Oral Health Benefits of Xylitol

In 1986, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) was commissioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review all relevant data concerning xylitol and other polyols. The FASEB report's scientific conclusions indicate that the use of xylitol in humans is safe. The report also affirms xylitol's acceptability as an approved food additive for use in foods for special dietary uses.

In 1996, 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, confirmed that adverse findings in animal studies conducted in the 1970s are "not relevant to the toxicological evaluation of these substances (e.g., xylitol) in humans."

JECFA has allocated an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of "not specified" for xylitol. ADI, expressed in terms of body weight, is the amount of a food additive that can be taken daily in the diet over a lifetime without risk.

An ADI of "not specified" is the safest category in which JECFA can place a food additive. The Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union (EU) also determined xylitol "acceptable" for dietary uses.

Warning for Dog Owners about Xylitol

Similar to other foods such as chocolate, grapes and raisins, xylitol is safe for people but NOT safe for dogs. As little as 2-3 sticks of xylitol-containing gum can be toxic to a dog. Within 30-minutes of consuming xylitol, dogs may suffer a severe drop in blood sugar, vomiting, lethargy and seizures.