Many consider stevia to be the best sugar substitute. But erythritol and xylitol are two sugar replacements that offer health benefits that stevia does not have.
Stevia, erythritol, and xylitol are all zero- or low-calorie sweeteners that do not affect blood sugar levels as much as sugar. Each one has unique advantages over the others with minimal side effects.
Why should you use sugar substitutes? You should use sugar substitutes because they contain less calories than sugar. Sugar substitutes may help you reach your weight loss goals, offer unique health benefits, and even offer a healthy alternative to sugar for diabetes patients or people on various diets.
7 in 10 American adults are overweight or obese, and sugar consumption is directly linked to obesity. Using sugar substitutes with fewer calories may lead to lower calorie consumption to lower the risk of obesity and weight gain. Obesity is associated with several dire medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, chronic back pain, and cancer.
Stevia, xylitol, and erythritol are plant-based sugar substitutes with a few similarities and a few differences. Read on to find out which of these is the best for your individual diet plan.
What you’ll learn more about below:
- Benefits and side effects of stevia, xylitol, and erythritol
- Calories, glycemic index, and sweetness
- Heat-stability for baking to satisfy your sweet tooth without upping your calorie count
What is stevia? Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener that has gained popularity in the past few decades. It is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar and has zero calories. It can be found in liquid, powder, or granulated form.
Stevia goes by several brand names, such as Truvia, Stevia In The Raw, or PureVia.
Stevia, when sold as a sweetener, is actually an extract from the stevia plant Stevia rebaudiana. Pure stevia leaf is not FDA-approved as a sweetener in the United States but can still be used in foods or other consumable products as a dietary supplement.
Where does stevia come from? Stevia extract comes from isolating the sweet-tasting glycoside compounds in the stevia leaf. By far, the most common compound used is “rebaudioside A” (though more and more manufacturers are looking into “rebaudioside M”).
How sweet is stevia? Stevia is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar.
How many calories does stevia have? Stevia contains zero calories, as opposed to regular sugar’s 4 calories per gram.
How is stevia made? Stevia is made by isolating certain sweet-tasting compounds from the stevia leaf. The FDA has approved stevia sweetener as “generally accepted to be safe” (GRAS) as a high-intensity sweetener.
How is stevia classified? Many classify stevia as a “novel sweetener”. Stevia comes from a natural source, but manufacturers have to process the stevia to make it into the sweetener we know. It is not technically a natural sweetener, but it is not an artificial sweetener, either. That’s why people refer to stevia as a “novel sweetener”, just like monk fruit extract.
Does stevia contain erythritol? Stevia does not contain erythritol. However, certain brands such as Truvia, Stevia In The Raw, and Pure Via all contain stevia extract and erythritol for a more “sugar-like” taste.
Health Benefits of Stevia
- Heat stable up to 200° Celsius
- Safe for diabetics and on the keto diet (as long as the stevia product doesn’t contain bulking agents that do affect blood glucose, such as dextrose or maltodextrin)
- Vasodilator (may lower blood pressure)
Side Effects of Stevia
- Bitter aftertaste
- May affect male fertility
What is erythritol? Erythritol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) that has nearly zero calories and is 70% as sweet as table sugar (sucrose).
Sugar alcohols (like erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol) may be used as food additives or sweeteners. For example, erythritol is the main ingredient in the sweetener Swerve and is used in many brands of chewing gum and ice cream.
How sweet is erythritol? Erythritol is 60-70% as sweet as sugar. This means you may need to use a slightly larger volume of erythritol vs sugar to get that same sweetness.
How many calories does erythritol have? Erythritol has 0.2 calories per gram, which is just 5% of the calories in sugar. If you’re tracking net carbs, like on the keto diet, erythritol can be subtracted from total carbs.
Where does erythritol come from? Erythritol can be found in many fruits and vegetables.
How is erythritol made? Commercial erythritol is often made from enzymatically hydrolyzed corn starch. This creates glucose, which is then fermented into erythritol.
How is erythritol classified? Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, which means it has a molecular structure similar to both sugars and alcohols. “Sugar alcohol” is a type of sugar alternative which includes erythritol, xylitol, and a handful of others.
Is erythritol natural or artificial? Erythritol is found in nature, while it can also be created artificially. It is classified as a sugar alcohol.
Health Benefits of Erythritol
- Glycemic index of 0
- Extremely low-calorie: 0.2 calories per gram
- Heat stable up to 160° Celsius
- Little to no aftertaste
- Safe for diabetics
- Safe for a ketogenic diet
Side Effects of Erythritol
When you consume too much erythritol or any sugar alcohol, it may lead to gastrointestinal side effects:
- Diarrhea (laxative effect)
- Disruption of gut bacteria
Does erythritol have an aftertaste? Erythritol has little to no aftertaste.
What is xylitol? Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol known for its oral health benefits in preventing tooth decay. It may even promote immune health.
Xylitol’s glycemic index is 13, which is the second highest of the sugar alcohols, but still far lower than sugar.
How sweet is xylitol? Xylitol is about as sweet as sucrose — 95% to 100% sweetness.
How many calories does xylitol have? Xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram, much better than sugar which has 4 calories per gram.
Where does xylitol come from? Xylitol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Commercial xylitol is usually a byproduct of corn, wheat, or certain tree barks. (“Xyl-” means wood, named after the tree bark that xylitol was originally sourced from.)
How is xylitol made? Commercial xylitol is made by extracting xylan polymers from tree bark or plant waste, which is hydrolyzed, then hydrogenated.
How is xylitol classified? Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Though it is found in nature, experts classify xylitol as a sugar alcohol, not a natural sweetener like agave nectar or maple syrup.
Does erythritol taste like xylitol? Erythritol and xylitol taste similar, but xylitol is sweeter than erythritol gram-for-gram.
An important note: Although humans tolerate xylitol well, xylitol is toxic to dogs. The canine digestive system thinks xylitol is sugar, so it increases insulin levels to absorb sugar from the blood. Since there was no actual sugar, a dog’s blood glucose levels will then drop dangerously low. This hypoglycemia may lead to death.
Health Benefits of Xylitol
- Glycemic index of 13 out of 100
- Heat stable up to 216° Celsius
- No aftertaste
- Promotes immune health
- Prevents cavities
Side Effects of Xylitol
- Issues with gut bacteria
- Toxic to dogs
Calories, Glycemic Index, and Sweetness
Below is a helpful table comparing calories, glycemic index, and sweetness of stevia, erythritol, and xylitol.
|Calories per gram||Glycemic index (out of 100)||Sweetness (% of sugar)|
|Stevia||0||0||20,000% – 40,000%|
You’ll notice stevia is many times sweeter than sugar, which is why stevia extract is often diluted and/or added to food in small amounts.
How to Bake with Stevia, Erythritol & Xylitol
Many baking recipes require sugar for a sweet taste and the right texture. To reduce calories and carbs, you can practice sugar-free baking with stevia, erythritol, or xylitol.
- Xylitol is the best of these three to use in baking because it has the highest melting point. Xylitol is heat stable up to 216° Celsius (420° Fahrenheit). As it is just as sweet as sugar, you won’t need to make any conversion calculations. However, xylitol may not produce the same browning or texture as sugar.
- Stevia is a good sugar substitute for baking. Stevia is heat stable up to 200° Celsius (392° Fahrenheit). However, stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so you will need to look up a conversion chart for the specific brand of stevia sweetener you want to use. Also, removing sugar completely may reduce the desired browning and caramelization (depending on the recipe).
- Erythritol is the least effective of the three in substituting sugar for baking. You need to use about 1.3 times as much erythritol as sugar in any given recipe. Plus, erythritol is only heat stable up to 160° Celsius (320° Fahrenheit), whereas the average baking recipe calls for the oven to be set at 350° Fahrenheit. This prevents erythritol from producing the desired texture or browning.
Which is Best: Stevia, Erythritol, or Xylitol?
There are advantages to stevia, erythritol, and xylitol. None is better than another, but knowing the benefits of each can help you decide which is best for your unique meal plan.
Stevia extract is an antioxidant up to 400 times sweeter than sugar, yet it has no calories so it is good for low-calorie and low-carb diets. Stevia has a glycemic index of 0, so it is safe for diabetics. Unfortunately, stevia has an aftertaste.
Erythritol is an antioxidant sugar alcohol with virtually no calories and a glycemic index between 0 and 1. Erythritol is actually an ingredient in most commercial stevia products. All sugar alcohols may cause bloating or diarrhea if consumed in large amounts.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that may help prevent cavities. Xylitol is just as sweet as sugar, but with only 60% of the calories. However, xylitol comes with the potential side effects of sugar alcohols (gastrointestinal distress) and is toxic to dogs.
These alternative sweeteners are all healthier than artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Equal). Not only will your taste buds thank you for using stevia, erythritol, or xylitol — your whole body will thank you.