Lately xylitol has been getting a bad rap — it can be toxic to dogs, even in small amounts — but it has many medical uses for humans that are extremely important, and it prevents tooth decay. Xylitol is a natural sweetener, not artificial like aspartame and sucralose. Let’s take a look at xylitol, what it’s used for, and some of its benefits.
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a natural alcohol, derived from plant material. It is extracted from birch bark or corn cobs and is found in many fruits and vegetables, including:
Xylitol goes by other names, including:
- Birch bark extract
- Birch sugar
Xylitol contains a bit less than half the calories of sugar, making it attractive for people trying to improve their diets.
Uses for and Benefits of Xylitol
Xylitol is found in diabetic chocolate and desserts. It’s similar to sugar in appearance (granular) so it’s great for baked goods. Xylitol has a minty taste and can be used as a substitute for brown sugar with 1 or 2 tablespoons of molasses in the same amounts — what could be easier than that?
Xylitol’s minty taste perfectly pairs with spearmint, wintermint and peppermint gums. It also helps gum companies achieve the flexible, chewable, gummy texture that consumers love best. Keep in mind that gums containing xylitol may also contain other types of sweeteners, including artificial and man-made sweeteners.
Since xylitol is not sugar, it doesn’t behave the same as sugar in the mouth, and it’s considered healthier for people’s teeth and mouths. Xylitol does not convert into acids like sugar, and it reduces the bacteria in saliva that cause tooth decay. It may also prevent dry mouth.
Xylitol, unlike sugar, does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels and has only 40% of the calories that sugar does. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, so it’s also used for weight control and for people who want to decrease sugar in their diets. Xylitol provides the same sweet taste as sugar, so diabetic foods can be satisfying for people with diabetes. It contains 75% fewer carbohydrates than sugar, and no protein, fat, vitamins or minerals at all. Xylitol’s glycemic index (GI) is 7 compared to sugar’s, which is 84. Despite this, xylitol is not sugar-free and may affect blood sugar in some people with diabetes.
Preventing Ear Infections
Xylitol is used to reduce the frequency of ear infections, which can often happen when a person becomes sick or has allergies and fluid is trapped in the middle ear. Infections can also occur in children who swim frequently. Ear infections can cause severe pain in the form of earaches, a high fever, swelling behind the ear, and — in severe cases — thick, yellow fluid flowing out of the ears. Although you should always keep xylitol away from your dog, it has many uses and benefits that make it a great alternative for sugary foods, baking, and dental health.