The advantages of xylitol

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 Xylitol is a sweetener that was originally made from birch bark when discovered during World War II in Finland; it is actually a substance that is naturally occurring in the human body and in many fruits and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.)

Avivah

25 thoughts on “The advantages of xylitol

    1. Kelly, it is almost scary how fast after I put up this post you were able to comment – as in within two minutes?! I think you’ve set a record here on my blog. :) Thanks for commenting and for sharing your post on the topic.

      1. Hi Aviva, this post of yours is from a while ago. I am looking for this product here in Jerusalem and I just can’t find it. o you know where I can find it (at a good price too)? My son has diabetes and it would be priceless to both of us. I appreciate your answer!
        Shulamit

        1. Hi, Shuli, welcome!

          As far as I know, xylitol isn’t sold in Israel. You can buy it at iherb.com, though you’ll have to buy smaller amounts of it to stay under the four pound limit per order, so that you won’t be taxed.

          1. Thank you so much for your fast reply Aviva.
            Than’s what I thought, that I wont find it here! In this link you send me I see tooth paste ad other stuff but the Xylitol that I can use as a sugar substitute, I don’t. Is it there? Does it have another name or something?
            Thanks again!
            Shuli

  1. 55 lb. bag? that totally made me giggle. :) thanks for writing this up! I’m attacking tooth decay like crazy cakes around here and really appreciate this information!

  2. Yes, that could be part of it… it could also be that my husband is always shocked at my bulk purchases as we are only a family of four right now. I could totally see myself trying to justify a 50 lb. bag of tooth healing sweetener to him over breakfast. :) “Honey?…”

  3. For the cocoa-based cakes, you don’t have the problem of them turning brown from the sucanat, so you’ve solved all problems!
    For the cocoa based cakes use sucanat and for the lighter colored cakes use xylitol .

    Now I’ve helped you too 😉

  4. For some reason, I felt like xylitol left a chemical like taste to its sweetness. Did you find that and what did I do wrong?

    Oh, I do recall making chocolate cakes with it so it might be worth trying again with cocoa.

    Now I just have to figure out about stevia…

  5. I’ve been hesitant about using xylitol for much of the same reasons that you’ve listed in your post. You are inspiring me to do some more research. :)

    1. Sara – we haven’t noticed any chemical taste at all.

      Jendeis – it’s definitely worth it to do the research; either you’ll decide it’s not what you want to be eating or you’ll discover a new addition to your healthy diet. But either way it’s worth looking into.

  6. I used it for a while when my kids were little, and none of them had cavities for years afterward. We discontinued use because getting a constant supply here in Israel was very, very difficult, and the natural foods people here also tend toward purism.

    Recently, though, my dh began traveling frequently, and with that, the kids’ brushing habits worsened. :( So I bought the xylitol again. The kids love being told to “take their candy!”. It’s great if only for that reason.

    A side effect that I haven’t encountered mentioned anywhere that we experienced is that the kids don’t have lice anymore. As you know, in Israel, most kids have a chronic case of head lice, or, as a relative of mine put it, “a child without lice is a child without friends”. We tried everything (except the stuff that lists brain damage as a possible side effect) and only got short term results. Then we started xylitol for the kids teeth, and that’s the only change we made- and suddenly the chronic head lice are gone. I am thrilled, and while I know that xylitol is controversial among whole foodists, it’s still the best treatment I’ve found against cavities and lice! :)

    1. Malkie – this was a fascinating experience you shared! About the lice – I am far from an expert on lice, but I wonder if they’re attracted to the ‘sweetness’ of a person. Since xylitol is chemically the opposite of sugar and doesn’t feed yeast, I wonder if this is connected and the body exudes something different. Whatever the case, this is an amazing side benefit!

  7. Avivah,

    you’ve piqued my interest in trying to find alternative sweeteners to cane sugar – ideally ones that have a lower glycemic index. Anyway, I was interested to find coconut sugar (with all your posts about the health benefits of coconuts!) has been touted as a “low glycemic, natural sweetener that looks similar to brown sugar, bakes like cane sugar, and has a sugary-sweet flavor all its own.” I haven’t gotten far in checking kosher status, but did find one certified by Earth Kosher (although I’m not familiar with that one). Wondering if this might be of interest to you.

  8. This is a bit random but just as a heads up – Xylitol is quite toxic to pets (dogs for sure, probably cats).

    It’s not a reason to use it or not use it but it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge. So, there ya go. If you have fuzzy housemates just make sure they’re kept far away.

    Here’s a post from a vet blogger I like:
    http://www.petmd.com/blogs/dailyvet/2009/May/26

  9. Avivah,
    Do you know anything about whether xylitol needs to have a kosher supervision? I bought a bag of it without thinking… because, sugar is always kosher ;)… and then realized, its not exactly sugar, is it? But I didn’t find anything informative online to tell me if its okay to use it, so thought I might check with you.
    Thanks,
    Shira

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