I first heard about xylitol about three years ago when I was researching tooth health, but because it ends in ‘ol’, that indicated to me a chemically created processed sweetener and I had no interest in learning more at that point.
But now ds4 and ds3 (almost) have exactly the same problem that none of the older 6 kids had – they each have one top front tooth that is grayish. Exactly the same tooth. (Edited in Jan. 2011 to add – it turns out that this isn’t a result of decay, but because the tooth was injured by being hit during a fall – the dentist said it was very common in young children. If a tooth is rotting, it will be brown, not gray.) So clearly I need to do something more than what I’m doing, and in addition to beginning homeopathic cell salts for them (something else I learned about back then but didn’t do!), I decided it was time to do some more research into xylitol instead of responding with a mental knee jerk to the thought of something that didn’t seem very traditional.
So I started doing some reading and it was really, really interesting! I was fascinated at how many benefits a sweetener could have. I learned a lot and since I don’t particularly enjoy writing reports on my blog with lots of technical details, I’ll just share with you what I find to be the most salient points.
First, what is it? Xylitol is a sweetener that was originally made from birch bark when discovered during World War II in Finland; it is actually a substance that is naturally occurring in the human body and in many fruits and vegetables. Xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks almost the same as white sugar, and can be effectively used to replace sugar in most foods in the same ratios (ie 1 cup for 1 cup), though I prefer to use a little less.
The biggest complaint that I read about was intestinal discomfort. A person can take 15 -20 grams daily with no side effects. More than this acts like fiber and cleans your system out, which can cause intestinal discomfort until the body gets used to consuming these quantities. As a person who is comfortable with the concept that good foods sometimes can lead to cleansing reactions, the possibility doesn’t really bother me. But it seems like the easiest thing to do is just start with small amounts and avoid the problem altogether.
Because it is chemically a different structure than most sweeteners, it doesn’t lead to food cravings and doesn’t feed candida (and therefore can’t be used in baking yeast breads, because it won’t feed the yeast for it to rise). To me those are two very incredible features, but additionally, it’s been found to be beneficial to your health in other ways.
It can prevent colds, ear infections, runny noses, and head colds in children. It aids in stronger bones because it allows the calcium in your body to be absorbed better. It metabolizes in the body without using insulin, which makes it a great option for diabetics. It doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar and actually helps reduce sugar and carbohydrate cravings. It benefits your teeth by changing the acidity in your mouth, making your mouth less hospitable to the bacteria that cause decay – this is my main motivation in using it.
Does xylitol fit with a natural foods way of eating? The answer is that I don’t know. It seems the WAP foundation has come out against it, but just saying something is processed and wasn’t eaten by our ancestors isn’t in and of itself compelling enough for me to disregard all the positive benefits of using it. I’ve been eating according to traditional foods guidelines for about five years, but learning all that I have in addition to doing some initial experimenting with xylitol has pushed it to the top of my list in terms of preferred sweeteners. So call me a rebel, but I’m just not willing to be a purist about food for the sake of dogma.
My kids like the taste – they think it tastes like sweet snow – it has an almost minty feeling in the mouth that isn’t mint – it’s a refreshing feeling. I plan to use it actively to combat tooth decay by giving the littles some after dinner, and ideally after every meal (1.5 teaspoons daily is the recommended amount for this purpose). Some people use mints or gum that are xylitol based, and eventually I’d like to make my own ‘candies’ with xylitol to give the kids, but for now, I’m planning to give it either directly on the spoon or dissolved in water, in addition to using it directly to brush their teeth with. It will take me some time to make it part of our regular daily routine, though.
Tonight after I gave ds3 his cell salts, which are lactose based, I gave him a spoon of xylitol to eat before bed so the lactose wasn’t the last thing in his mouth for the night. It seems outrageous that a mother could do something like this and be responsible at the same time! So easy!
In addition to the benefits I listed above, I like that it’s white – we’ve been using organic sucanat as our primary sweetener for baking, and dd15 (our primary baker) finds it frustrating that all cakes turn a brownish color as a result. However, though she initially liked the idea of using xylitol, as well as the taste, so far two cakes that had cocoa in them flopped (her words, not mine), and she believes xylitol doesn’t react well with cocoa and caused the problem. I think we have to try it a few more times to see if that’s regularly the case or not.
Since I don’t eat anything with flour in it, I can’t say what the flopped cakes tasted like – the other kids liked it – but I can say that the few times I’ve had xylitol it’s been very tasty and whatever I made turned out well. I used it just this morning with my chia seed/coconut milk drink, and have had it with nut butter dessert recipes and it was excellent.
My general approach is to minimize the use of sweeteners, and this continues to be my approach. Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone, and I’m not about to start adding lots of sweetener to our diets, no matter what it is (the exception being the very small amount for the littles for their teeth). Having said that…..
Good for the body, good for the teeth, fights infection, doesn’t cause cravings, low in carbs, tastes great, and substitutes well for sugar in most dishes – xylitol has a lot of advantages. With my purchase in bulk of 55 lb (I bought Xylosweet), it made it affordable enough to be a full-fledged addition to my pantry. Move over sucanat, here comes something better! :)))
(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)