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Everything You Need to Know About the Zero-Calorie Sweetener Erythritol

by Annie Price
July 27, 2021
Photo Credit: Ruth Black

If you’ve read the ingredients on a zero-sugar drink, lower-calorie ice cream, or sugar-free gum, chances are erythritol has crossed your radar. This sugar alternative tastes like a slightly-less-sweet version of regular sugar, but it has just 6% of the calories per serving. Studies have also shown that it has a low impact on blood sugar levels, making it a safe alternative for diabetics. And it’s keto- and paleo-friendly. 

But what exactly is erythritol and is it safe? Let’s take a closer look…

What Is Erythritol?

Erythritol is a type of sugar low-calorie, low-carb sugar substitute known as a sugar alcohol; other sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and isomalt. Like novel sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit, sugar alcohols have a minimal impact on blood sugar. But they tend to be less sweet and taste more sugar-like (and less chemical).

Of the sugar alcohols, erythritol contains the fewest calories and is 60-70% as sweet as regular sugar.

You can find it naturally in some fruits, mushrooms, and fermented foods like wine and soy sauce. But commercial erythritol is often made by fermenting glucose from hydrolyzed corn starch or wheat. 

What Are the Benefits?

On the plus side, this sugar substitute is essentially calorie-free and has a low impact on blood sugar levels. It’s also tooth-friendly since sugar alcohol can’t be metabolized by oral bacteria. Research has even shown that it can reduce dental plaque and decrease cavity risk. We’re sweet on that!

What Are the Side Effects?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved erythritol for use as a food additive in 2001, which means that it is generally considered safe for most people (and dogs) in moderation. 

However, too much “can act as a laxative in high quantities and also cause gastrointestinal distress like gas and bloating” according to Clean Plates founder Jared Koch. It may also cause nausea, and, for some, an allergic reaction.  

These side effects are actually less pronounced with erythritol than other sugar alcohols, but if you notice any of these unwanted symptoms, decrease the amount you’re using. And, if you still experience side effects, then this just may not be the right alternative sweetener for you.

How to Buy and Use Erythritol

In shopping for erythritol, look for a brand that is non-GMO certified. And keep an eye out for other sweeteners and “natural flavors,” which are often not-so-natural. We like NOW Foods and Whole Earth, both of which have just one ingredient: non-GMO erythritol.

You can use it as a 1:1 substitute for sugar for a slightly less sweet final product. Or you can add about 25% more if you want to match the sweetness level of sugar. Just be aware: This alt sweetener can produce a cooling or minty sensation, especially when it’s used in large quantities. And, if you’re looking for caramelization, don’t reach for erythritol.

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