Xylitol Gum: Benefits, Brands, and Side Effects
What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol close to the sweetness of sugar, but with half the calories. Along with erythritol, xylitol might be the most popular sugar alcohol. Xylitol is used in many sugar-free chewing gums or mints and is known for its ability to prevent cavities.
Xylitol naturally occurs in several fruits and vegetables. Usually, xylitol is commercially produced from corn or tree bark to use as a sugar substitute in products like candy, bubble gum, yogurt, and toothpaste.
Although sugar alcohols have molecular structures similar to drinking alcohol, sugar alcohols cannot get you drunk. Sugar alcohols are safe for individuals battling alcohol addiction.
Table sugar has approximately 3.75 calories per gram, whereas xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram. Xylitol has about 60% of the calories of table sugar.
Xylitol is the sweetest sugar alcohol at about 95% the sweetness of table sugar.
Is xylitol safe in chewing gum?
Yes, xylitol is safe in chewing gum. In moderation, it is safe for diabetics and individuals on the keto diet. But don’t eat more than two or three pieces of xylitol chewing gum in a day — overconsumption may lead to bloating or a rise in blood sugar levels.
Benefits of Xylitol
A major benefit to sugar substitutes like xylitol is the reduction of added sugars from your diet. Added sugars are categorically bad for you: The more added sugar you consume, the higher your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and death. Xylitol should not replace good oral hygiene, including brushing your teeth and flossing, but it’s still a great way to support oral health.
1. Boosts Dental Health
Xylitol is well known for boosting dental health. More than any other health benefit of xylitol, this one is supported by scientific research.
Sugar alcohols do not contribute to tooth decay, like sugar does. But xylitol, in particular, has been shown to prevent tooth decay (cavities).
In 2003, scientists found that xylitol may be associated with a decrease in harmful bacteria like Streptococcus mutans, which is a significant contributor to tooth decay.
Xylitol prevents cavity formation, not only by starving harmful bacteria of the sugar they crave, but also decreasing the number of harmful bacteria in your oral microbiome. This is one reason you can chew sweet-tasting xylitol gum, and it is still good for your dental health.
2. Low Glycemic Index & Blood Sugar Impact
Xylitol can be consumed in moderation while on the keto diet or if you have diabetes. This is because xylitol is low on the glycemic index and has a low blood sugar impact.
Glycemic index (GI) describes how much a certain substance affects your blood glucose levels. Pure glucose has a GI of 100 out of 100. Table sugar (AKA sucrose) has a GI of 60. Even though xylitol tastes almost as sweet as regular sugar, xylitol has a fraction of the GI.
Xylitol has a GI between 7-13 out of 100. This means that xylitol has little effect on your blood glucose levels, and is mostly safe for people on the keto diet or with diabetes.
Xylitol should only be consumed in moderation, since it does have a small effect on your blood sugar. But a couple pieces of gum a day are unlikely to cause a spike in your blood sugar.
3. Reduces Ear Infections
Research indicates that xylitol inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause ear infections.
This 2001 study concludes that “xylitol is the only commercially used sugar substitute proven to have an antimicrobial effect on pneumococci,” such as Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria can cause acute otitis media (a common type of middle ear infection).
A 2011 review (updated in 2016) found 4 clinical trials with moderate quality evidence to suggest that xylitol reduces the risk of middle ear infection by up to 30%.
This is one reason some parents use xylitol as a substitute sugar in feeding bottles for their young children.
4. May Prevent Oral Thrush
Oral thrush (AKA oral candidiasis) refers to raised, white, sore patches in your mouth or on your tongue. Oral thrush is usually caused by the fungus Candida albicans.
Xylitol seems to be able to neutralize Candida fungi. A recent in vitro study shows that xylitol may be an effective treatment for this fungal infection.
Xylitol may also be useful in treating mixed infections, such as when you get a Candida fungal infection along with a bacterial infection.
5. Promotes Gut Health
Gut health is important to your everyday health. A huge portion of your immune system is present in your gut — a healthy gut usually signals a healthy immune system.
Animal studies show that xylitol may neutralize harmful bacteria in your gut microbiome, much like it can in your oral microbiome. This allows probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to grow in your gut, promoting overall gut health.
However, consuming too many sugar alcohols in a day can lead to gastrointestinal distress and even negative changes in gut bacteria. Take this health benefit with a grain of salt.
6. May Slow Aging
Aging is a natural process, but that doesn’t mean it’s a fixed process.
As you age, your body produces less and less collagen, a protein that makes your skin smooth and taut. Your natural collagen production starts to slow down around the age of 25.
An animal study shows that xylitol may increase new collagen production.
Oxidative stress can speed the impact of aging. When free radicals are not neutralized by antioxidants, oxidants chemically impact your body — a process called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, which contributes to aging.
7. Supports Healthy Bones
Healthy bones are important for your health. Xylitol seems to support healthy bones throughout your body.
An animal study concludes that dietary xylitol may lead to increased bone volume and bone mineral content — both important for bone health in older individuals. This indicates that the use of xylitol could protect against osteoporosis and age-related bone deterioration.
Another way xylitol may indirectly support healthy bones is the way it influences the way your gut metabolizes a phytoestrogen (plant estrogen) called daidzein. Daidzein, found richly in soybeans and other legumes, converts to equol in the gut and is important for preventing bone loss especially for women before and during menopause.
Xylitol increases the metabolism of daidzein for more equol production.
Xylitol Gum Benefits
With all the health benefits xylitol has to offer, dentists often recommend chewing xylitol gum 20 minutes after meals to promote dental health.
Chewing gums help produce saliva, which is good for your oral health, since dry mouth may increase your risk of tooth decay and infection. Xylitol gum, in particular, starves the harmful bacteria in your mouth, leading to fewer bacteria and less tooth decay.
What is the best brand of xylitol gum?
- Spry Xylitol Chewing Gum (manufactured by Xlear) is only sweetened by xylitol, and contains 0.9 grams of xylitol. Spry xylitol gum tastes great and comes in flavors like spearmint, peppermint, fresh fruit, cinnamon, and green tea.
- Epic Dental Xylitol Gum contains 1.06 grams of xylitol. Some report Epic Dental xylitol gum loses its taste more quickly than other brands.
- PUR Gum Aspartame Free is sweetened with 1.1 grams of xylitol per piece, and it contains few other ingredients, including two non-GMO natural flavors. PUR is all about reduction of unnatural ingredients, making this a great choice for ingredient-conscious consumers. However, customers sometimes complain that PUR gum crushes very easily and isn’t very “chewy” after a short time.
- Lotte Xylitol Chewing Gum is reported to be the sweetest of any of the gums listed here, though its taste is not as long-lasting as the Spry gum. Lotte is manufactured in South Korea, in 90-piece bottles. It contains mostly xylitol as a sweetener. The most popular flavor of Lotte is applemint.
- Trident Sugar Free Gum with Xylitol contains several sugar alcohols including xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol. Trident also uses artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, both of which may come with health risks. Trident does come in many different flavors, and they sell very well, but Trident’s use of xylitol along with other less healthy sweeteners is questionable. Mannitol, for instance, may spike blood sugar very similarly to table sugar.
- Orbit Sugar Free Gum uses xylitol and has under 5 calories per piece — though the calories and amount of xylitol varies wildly from flavor to flavor. Orbit chewing gum typically uses a very small amount of xylitol per piece, and contains other sweeteners in higher concentrations, such as sorbitol, mannitol, and aspartame.
Which gum has the most xylitol? PUR Gum has the most xylitol in their chewing gum. PUR Gum Aspartame Free has 1.1 grams of xylitol in each piece along with a few other ingredients to dilute xylitol’s sweetness and health benefits.
Potential Side Effects & Dosage of Xylitol
Most of the side effects of xylitol are also the side effects of all sugar alcohols. These are rare unless you consume very large amounts but may be slightly more common if you start consuming xylitol for the first time.
Side effects of sugar alcohols include:
- Gut microbiome issues
According to human trials, xylitol seems to cause these side effects less often than other sugar alcohols.
Xylitol Is Toxic to Dogs
A warning for all canine lovers: xylitol is dangerously toxic to dogs.
Although xylitol is safe and well-tolerated in humans, a dog’s body confuses xylitol for sugar. This can lead to higher insulin levels and lower blood sugar, which can be fatal.
If your household has a dog, do not keep xylitol products lying around. If your dog likes to get into things while you’re not looking, maybe pass up xylitol altogether.
Should you chew xylitol gum?
If it fits your overall health goals, yes, you should chew xylitol gum because it’s good for your dental health, as sweet as sugar, and has half the calories.
Every individual should decide to chew xylitol gum on a case by case basis. For some, xylitol gum will help improve their oral health and cut down on calories from sugary gum. For others, xylitol gum may be unnecessary or dangerous to pets in the house.
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- Xylitol is a natural sweetener with surprising health benefits.
- Where sugar can lead to poor oral hygiene, xylitol seems to improve dental health and help prevent cavities.
- Since xylitol is a sugar alcohol, it contains less calories than sugar.
- Xylitol gum is toxic to dogs even in small amounts.
Read next: 5 Ways to Curb Your Sugar Cravings
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