Xylitol is a good-tasting bulk sweetener which is reduced in calories and dentally safe. Discovered in 1891, xylitol has been used as a sweetening agent in human food since the 1960s. It has gained widespread 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 around the world. 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.
Facts About Xylitol
- Good taste with no unpleasant aftertaste
- Equal sweetness and bulk to sugar
- Helps reduce the development of dental caries
- Reduces plaque formation
- Increases salivary flow to aid in the repair of damaged tooth enamel
- Provides one-third fewer calories than sugar – about 2.4 calories per gram
- May be useful as an alternative to sugar for people with diabetes on the advice of their health care providers
Reduces Plaque Growth
The ability of xylitol sweetened chewing gums and tablets to reduce plaque accumulation and inhibit plaque re-growth, has been demonstrated in a number of studies (including studies at the Dental Schools of the Michigan and Indiana Universities.) Blends of xylitol and sorbitol in chewing gum have been shown to be more effective than sorbitol alone, but less effective than pure xylitol products.
Stimulates Salivary Flow
The sweetness and pleasant cooling effect of xylitol-sweetened products (such as mints and chewing gum) create an increase in salivary flow. Saliva helps with cleaning and protecting teeth from decay, and has a role in repairing the damage caused by the early stages of the decay process.
Reduced Calorie Alternative To Sugar
Absorption of xylitol by the human body is slow, allowing part of the ingested xylitol to reach the large intestine where metabolism yields fewer calories. Therefore, unlike sugar which contributes four calories per gram, the caloric contribution of xylitol is about 2.4 calories per gram. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated it does not object to the use of this value. The lower caloric value of xylito land other polyols is recognized in other countries as well. For example, the European Union has provided a Nutritional Labeling Directive stating that polyols, including xylitol, have a caloric value of 2.4 calories per gram.
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 the safety of xylitol for human consumption and allocated xylitol 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. Xylitol is approved in more than 35 countries.
Multiple Ingredient Approach to Calorie Control
Blending xylitol with other polyols (e.g., sorbitol) and high-intensity sweeteners offers additional taste and functional possibilities.