Erythritol_structure
Erythritol chemical structure

What is Erythritol ?

Erythritol (1,2,3,4-butanetetrol) is a four-carbon sugar alcohol with sweetening properties that is used by the food industry as a food additive 1). Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in fruit and fermented foods 2). Erythritol has about 0.2 calories per gram and is about 60% to 80% as sweet as sugar. By comparison, there are 4 calories per gram of sugar. And unlike sugar, sugar alcohols like Erythritol does not react with plaque bacteria in your mouth and does not cause tooth cavities 3), 4), 5).

Erythritol has also been shown to have an antioxidant in the body and may help protect against hyperglycemia-induced vascular damage 6). Hyperglycemia, oxidative stress, and the onset and progression of diabetic complications are strongly linked. Reduction of oxidative stress could be of utmost importance in the long-term treatment of diabetic patients.

Erythritol is primarily used in chewing gums, baked foods and beverages, as well as occurring in fruits such as pear, watermelon and grapes. Sugar alcohols differ from artificial sweeteners because they are exist naturally through plants. Erythritol manufacturers create the sweetener in granulated and powdered forms 7). Erythritol appears as a white crystalline, odorless product which rapidly dissolves in water (up to 60 g/100 ml at 30°C) to give a brilliantly clear, low viscosity, colorless solution.

Erythritol is the first polyol to be industrially manufactured from corn and wheat starch by a fermentation process. The starting material is a simple sugar-rich substrate which is fermented using a yeast (either Moniliella pollinis or Trichosporonoides megachliensis) to yield erythritol 8). The product is then crystalized to 99.5% purity from the filtered and concentrated fermentation broth 9).

Erythritol has a shelf life of 2 years 10).

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and can also be manufactured.

Everyday Uses of Erythritol

Erythritol can be used in a variety of products including:

  • Beverages
  • Baked Goods
  • Dairy
  • Ice-cream
  • Confectionary
  • Tabletop Sweeteners
  • Nutritional and Dietary Products.

Erythritol and Diabetes

Several studies were performed to investigate the potential effect that the ingestion of erythritol might have on carbohydrate metabolism in non-diabetics and diabetics. In non-diabetics, erythritol was dissolved in water and ingested as a single dose of 0.3 g/kg body weight. Analysis of blood performed at 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 8, and 24 hours after erythritol administration showed no changes in insulin or glucose concentrations 11). In diabetic individuals, erythritol, in a single oral dose of 20 g dissolved in 100 mL of water, was ingested by five fasting patients, followed by the ingestion of normal meals approximately 3 and 12 hours later. Serum insulin and glucose were measured prior to and for up to 24 hours after erythritol administration. Analysis of the serum values showed that neither insulin nor glucose concentrations were changed in response to erythritol administration 12). These studies in non-diabetics and diabetics demonstrate that erythritol does not adversely affect glycemic homeostasis.

Is Erythritol Safe ?

Erythritol like all the Polyols (sugar alcohols) are used as sweeteners and bulking agents, and designated generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA 13).

What is Sugar Alcohol

Sugar alcohols are also called “polyols” 14). Polyols are hydrogenated monosaccharides (monosaccharides are single sugars, they are small enough to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream; they include: Glucose, Fructose, Galactose) and include such sugars as sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, xylitol and D-tagatose as well as the hydrogenated disaccharides isomalt, maltitol, lactitol and trehalose. The polysaccharide derived hydrogenated starch hydrolysates are also included in this category. Polyols are used as sweeteners and bulking agents, and designated generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA 15).

Despite their name, sugar alcohols aren’t sugar and they aren’t alcohol.

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that chemically have characteristics of both sugars and alcohols. They get their name because they have a chemical structure similar to sugar and to alcohol. However, sugar alcohols do not contain the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages 16).

Newer, cheaper ways to make sugar alcohols from corncobs, wood, and other plant materials, along with their sugar-like taste, are fueling their use in a growing array of foods.

The most common sugar alcohols found in foods include:

  • Erythritol – 0.2 calories per gram and 60% to 80% as sweet as sugar. Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in fruit and fermented foods. Erythritol does not result in as much of a rise in blood sugar after meals or cause tooth decay. Unlike other sugar alcohols, it does not cause stomach upset.
  • Isomalt– 2 calories per gram and 45% to 65% as sweet as sugar
  • Lactitol – 2 calories per gram and 30% to 40% as sweet at sugar
  • Maltitol – 2.1 calories per gram and 90% as sweet as sugar
  • Mannitol – 1.6 calories per gram and 50% to 70% as sweet as sugar
  • Sorbitol – 2.6 calories per gram and 50% to 70% as sweet as sugar
  • Xylitol – 2.4 calories per gram and the same sweetness as sugar (but only has a Glycemic Index of 7)

By comparison, there are 4 calories per gram of sugar.

Where Sugar Alcohols Are Found

Sugar alcohols are found naturally in small amounts in a variety of fruits and vegetables and are also commercially produced from sugars and starch.
Commercially produced sugar alcohols are added to foods as reduced-calorie sweeteners and are found in many sugar-free and reduced-sugar products, including:

  • Chewing gum
  • Dairy desserts (such as ice cream, other frozen desserts, and puddings)
  • Frostings
  • Grain-based desserts (such as cakes and cookies)
  • Sweets (such as hard and soft candies, flavored jam, and jelly spreads)

Sugar alcohols are one type of reduced-calorie sweetener. You can find them in ice creams, cookies, puddings, candies and chewing gum that is labeled as “sugar-free”, “diabetic”, “low carb”or “no sugar added.” Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar and have less of an effect on blood glucose (blood sugar) than other carbohydrates.

Keep in mind that just because a product is “sugar free,” it doesn’t always mean that it’s healthy. Foods and beverages that contain non-nutritive sweeteners can be included in a healthy diet, as long as the calories they save you are not added back by adding more foods as a reward later in the day, adding back calories that take you over your daily limit. The current meta-analysis 17) provides a rigorous evaluation of the scientific evidence on low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition. Findings from observational studies showed no association between low-calorie sweeteners intake and body weight or fat mass and a small positive association with body mass index (BMI); however, data from randomised clinical trials, which provide the highest quality of evidence for examining the potentially causal effects of low-calorie sweeteners intake, indicate that substituting low-calorie sweeteners options for their regular-calorie versions results in a modest weight loss and may be a useful dietary tool to improve compliance with weight loss or weight maintenance plans 18).

Figure 1. Nutrition Facts Label

erythritol nutrition
[Source 19)]

Note: Look for sugar alcohols on the ingredient list on a food package. Some examples of sugar alcohols are: erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. When choosing “sugar-free” foods containing sugar alcohols, remember to use the Nutrition
Facts Label to compare the calories and nutrients in the sugar-free version to the regular version of a particular food. These products may still have a significant amount of calories, carbohydrate, and fat.

Tip: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight — the closer they are to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food.

How To Monitor Sugar Alcohols in Your Diet

Use the Nutrition Facts Label as your tool for monitoring consumption of sugar alcohols. The Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages shows the amount in grams (g) of total carbohydrate and sugars and the Percent Daily Value (%DV) of total carbohydrate in one serving of the food.

Foods with low- or reduced-calorie sweeteners like Erythritol can have fewer calories than foods made with sugar and other caloric sweeteners. That can be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight or even to prevent weight gain. These products often times also have less carbohydrate which can be helpful in managing blood glucose levels. However, you need to read the food labels carefully because many of the food products containing these types of sweeteners still have a significant amount of carbohydrate, calories and fat, so never consider them a “free food” without checking the label. By comparing the calories in the sugar-free version to the regular version, you’ll see whether you’re really getting fewer calories.

Low-calorie sweeteners are useful for adding extra flavor or sweetness to your food, with few if any extra calories. In addition, these sweeteners are useful for reducing calories and carbohydrates when used instead of sugar in coffee, tea, cereal and on fruit. You can experiment with your own recipes to include low-calorie sweeteners.

What Sugar Alcohols Do

  • Sugar alcohols provide a sweet taste with fewer calories per gram than table sugar (sucrose), and are commonly used in place of sugar and often in combination with artificial sweeteners.
  • Sugar alcohols in food add bulk and texture, help retain moisture, and prevent browning that occurs during heating.
  • Sugar alcohols produce a “cooling” sensation in the mouth when added to foods in high concentrations — for example, in sugar-free hard candy or
    chewing gum.
  • Unlike sugar, sugar alcohols do not react with plaque bacteria in the mouth. So, they do not cause cavities (also known as “dental caries”).

Sugar Alcohols Health Facts

Sugar alcohols are slowly and incompletely absorbed from the small intestine into the blood. As a result, they provide fewer calories per gram than sugar and produce a smaller change in blood glucose (often referred to as blood sugar) than other carbohydrates.

Polyols (sugar alcohols like Erythritol) are only partially absorbed from the small intestine, allowing for the claim of reduced energy per gram. Polyols contain, on average, 2 kcals/gm, or 1/2 the calories of other nutritive sweeteners. Studies of subjects with and without diabetes have shown that sugar alcohols cause less of a postprandial glucose response than sucrose or glucose 20). However, polyols can cause diarrhea at ≥20 gms especially in children. Although a diet high in polyols could reduce overall energy intake or provide long-term improvement in glucose control in diabetes, such studies have yet to be done 21).

Sugar Alcohols Side Effects

Sugar alcohols can also produce abdominal gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals because they are not completely absorbed by the body and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine 22). For this reason, foods that contain the sugar alcohols sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning on their label that states “excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”

Erythritol vs Stevia

Erythritol is a nutritive sweetener because it has 0.2 calories per gram (0.8 calories per teaspoon) and 60% to 80% as sweet as sugar. Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in fruit and fermented foods. Erythritol does not result in as much of a rise in blood sugar after meals or cause tooth decay. Erythritol does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels. Unlike other sugar alcohols, it does not cause stomach upset. This sugar alcohol is a sweetener available in a powdered form. It is formed from the breaking down, fermenting, and filtering of sugar cane or corn starch. It has a cool taste that works well in coffee and tea. 23).

Unlike Erythritol, Stevia is also called a non-nutritive sweetener because it has zero calorie (0 calorie). Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via, Sun Crystals, Rebaudioside A, Reb A, rebiana) is a non-caloric plant-based sweetener; made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, which is grown for its sweet leaves; common names include sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia 24). In addition to stevioside several other sweet principles such as steviosides A and B, Steviobioside, Rebaudioside A, B, C, D, E and Dulcoside A were isolated from Stevia rebaudiana leaf 25). FDA approved as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as a food additive and table top sweetener only certain high purity steviol glycosides purified from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni). Stevia is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar) 26). Extracts from the stevia leaves are available as sweeteners in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Russia, Israel, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina 27). And like Erythritol, Stevia does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels. Therefore both Erythritol and Stevia are suitable for people with diabetes.

This study using both Stevia (rebaudioside A) and Erythritol on people with prediabetes (glucose intolerance) suggests that consumption of rebaudioside A and erythritol for short-term periods of 2 weeks does not alter the glucose homeostasis in people with glucose intolerance 28).

Stevia and chemicals contained in stevia, including stevioside and rebaudioside A, are LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth as a sweetener in foods 29). Rebaudioside A has generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status in the U.S. for use as a sweetener for foods. Stevioside has been safely used in research in doses of up to 1500 mg daily for 2 years.

Some people who take stevia or stevioside can experience bloating or nausea. Other people have reported feelings of dizziness, muscle pain, and numbness.

Replacing sugary foods and drinks with sugar-free options containing non-nutritive sweeteners is one way to limit calories and achieve or maintain a healthy weight 30). Also, when used to replace food and drinks with added sugars, it can help people with diabetes manage blood glucose levels. For example, swapping a full-calorie soda with diet soda is one way of not increasing blood glucose levels while satisfying a sweet tooth.

We don’t know for sure if using non-nutritive sweeteners in food and drinks makes people actually eat or drink fewer calories every day. But reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet ? That we know for sure is a good thing.

According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes, as well as individual health goals and personal preference 31). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends sugars are to be consumed in moderation, with calories from sugar making up no more than 10 percent of their total calorie intake. For example, 10 percent of 1800 calories per day is 180 calories from added sugars 32). The American Heart Association recommends that most women eat no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day of added sugar and men no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day of added sugar. Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (such as putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your cereal). Added sugars (or added sweeteners) can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup). This recommendation is based on research that showed diets high in added sugars increase risk factors, such as obesity and triglycerides, for coronary heart disease. Additionally, foods and beverages high in added sugars tend to displace nutritious foods and are generally high in calories and low in nutritional value. Limiting intake of added sugars can help reduce calorie intake and can help people achieve or maintain a healthy body weight 33).

daily sugar allowance american heart association

Erythritol Side Effects

Sugar alcohols can also produce abdominal gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals because they are not completely absorbed by the body and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. For this reason, foods that contain the sugar alcohols sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning on their label that states “excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”

Erythritol when consumed at less 35 grams has been shown to have less gastrointestinal side effects like bloating, abdominal gas and diarrhea than other sugar alcohols (e.g Xylitol). However, Erythritol intake above 50 grams can cause nausea and borborygmi (a rumbling or gurgling noise made by the movement of fluid and gas in the intestines). In a small study involving 70 healthy volunteers 34). Compared with 45 grams sucrose, consumption of a single oral, bolus dose of 50 g xylitol in water significantly increased the number of subjects reporting nausea, bloating, borborygmi (a rumbling or gurgling noise made by the movement of fluid and gas in the intestines), colic (severe pain in the abdomen), watery faeces (diarrhea) and total bowel movement frequency. Also 35 grams of xylitol increased significantly bowel movement frequency to pass watery faeces (diarrhea). In contrast, 50 grams erythritol only significantly increased the number of subjects reporting nausea and borborygmi (a rumbling or gurgling noise made by the movement of fluid and gas in the intestines). Lower doses of 20 grams and 35 grams erythritol did not provoke a significant increase in gastrointestinal symptoms. At all levels of intake, xylitol produced significantly more watery faeces than erythritol 35). Consumption of 20 grams and 35 grams erythritol by healthy volunteers, in a liquid, is tolerated well, without any symptoms. At the highest level of erythritol intake (50 g), only a significant increase in borborygmi and nausea was observed, whereas xylitol intake at this level induced a significant increase in watery faeces.

Erythritol danger

A critical and comprehensive review of the safety information on erythritol was undertaken 36). Numerous toxicity and metabolic studies have been conducted on erythritol in rats, mice and dogs. The toxicity studies consist of long-term feeding studies conducted to determine carcinogenic potential, intravenous and oral teratogenicity studies to determine the potential for effects on the foetus, oral studies in which erythritol was administered over one or two generations to determine the potential for reproductive effects, and studies in bacterial and mammalian systems to determine mutagenic potential. The majority of the safety studies conducted were feeding studies in which erythritol was mixed into the diet at concentrations as high as 20%. The metabolic studies in animals have shown that erythritol is almost completely absorbed, not metabolized systemically and is excreted unchanged in the urine.

The clinical studies showed erythritol to be well tolerated and not to cause any toxicologically relevant effects, even following high-dose exposure. Erythritol administered orally to humans was rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and quantitatively excreted in the urine without undergoing metabolic change. At high oral doses, urinary excretion accounted for approximately 90% of the administered dose with minimal amounts appearing in the faeces. A comparison of the human and animal data indicated a high degree of similarity in the metabolism of erythritol and this finding supports the use of the animal species used to evaluate the safety of erythritol for human consumption. It can be concluded, based on the available studies that erythritol did not produce evidence of toxicity 37).

Where to buy erythritol

You can buy Erythritol in all good supermarkets.

References   [ + ]

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