Xylitol – sugar substitute, properties and application

Birch sugar, known primarily as xylitol, belongs to the group of sweeteners of natural origin. This sugar substitute has been gaining wider recognition among consumers for several years. 

The use of xylitol was initially recommended to people suffering from diabetes. Currently, birch sugar is often chosen as a substitute for sugar refined also by healthy people who strive to reduce weight and want to avoid developing type II diabetes. Xylitol also has several other interesting pro-health properties. 

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Sugar alcohol from the 19th century 

Xylitol belongs to the group of sugar alcohols. In terms of physico-chemical properties and taste values, it is very similar to sucrose. Birch sugar was produced in the 19th century from birch bark, hence the name. Currently, mainly maize is used for the production of xylitol. 

Pros and cons of xylitol use 

Xylitol does not cause a rapid increase in the level of glucose in the blood. The metabolism of birch sugar takes place with insignificant share of insulin. Xylitol contains 37% fewer calories compared to sucrose. 100 g of xylitol contains 243 calories (kcal), while 100 g of sugar contains 387 calories (kcal). Birch sugar is ideal for people suffering from impaired glucose tolerance and those seeking to reduce body weight. Birch sugar has bactericidal properties – it helps in the prevention and treatment of gingivitis and caries. Consumption of xylitol may promote the destruction of dental plaque. Sucrose is converted to acids, so it promotes caries. This type of chemical transformation does not occur in the case of xylitol. According to recent studies, birch sugar promotes the absorption of calcium, and thus indirectly improves bone mineralization. The use of xylitol may be part of the prevention of osteopenia and osteoporosis. In contrast to sucrose, birch sugar is not conducive to the development of fungi and yeasts. 

Although xylitol has many health-promoting properties (more of which you can read further in the article), you can not consume it in unlimited quantities. It is recommended to consume no more than 15 g of birch sugar, which corresponds to about 3 teaspoons. Excessive intake of this product may cause diarrhea. The downside of xylitol is that the body is not used to digesting it – there is no inventory of enzymes that digest birch sugar. He produces them only when needed. Therefore, you should not take the maximum dose immediately, just start with the smallest amounts. One needs only a few days to adapt to digesting xylitol. 

It will help, but it will not solve the problem for you 

Birch sugar does not solve the problem of the need to consume a lot of sweets during the day. The average consumer fond of sweets eats about 80 grams of white sugar (in the form of sucrose and finished processed products). Not immediately, 15 g of xylitol is enough for the body. Therefore, one must prepare for the test of strong will, or gradually reduce the sugar by introducing xylitol in the menu. The disadvantage of xylitol is its higher price than sugar. You can buy it in health food stores, in selected online stores, but also in some retail chains. 

Semi-synthetic – sweetener and ingredient of the product 

According to the EU classification, xylitol belongs to semi-synthetics that can be used in the food industry in the form of sweetener and as a component of products. The birch sugar appears on labels under the designation E967. Xylitol is used to produce articles such as 

– toothpastes 

– sweets with reduced sugar content / no sugar 

– light products (e.g. yoghurts) 

– Chewing Gum 

– medicines 

– products for athletes 

Producers belonging to the food and pharmaceutical industries use xylitol not only because of health-promoting properties but also technological ones. Birch sugar works well as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener and a humectant. 

Xylitol has been marketed as a product used directly by consumers as a sweetener for beverages and for baking – it is resistant to high temperatures. 

Production of xylitol – birch or corn sugar? 

Xylitol is found in fruits and vegetables. On an industrial scale, it was initially produced from birch bark subjected to the hydrolysis process. Currently, the traditional way of producing birch sugar is used only by a Finnish producer. The leading producer of xylitol on a global scale remains China. Chinese producers produce xylitol from corn using the work of microorganisms. Corn cobs are subjected to chemical processes to extract xylans from them. In the next stage of xylitol production, xylans are fermented in the presence of yeast or bacteria. 

Glycemic index of xylitol and pro-health properties 

When assessing whether a sugar substitute is better than sucrose, two criteria are usually considered – calorific value and IG. We have already written about calories. In terms of the glycemic index, in turn, only 13, which places it in products with very low GI (the index of sugar is 70, and glucose 100). The use of birch sugar more effectively supports weight loss and fat reduction than the use of other substitutes. 

Xylitol helps in the prevention of caries, for example because it inhibits the growth of bacteria, such as streptococcus mutans, and restores the acid-base balance in the mouth. Birch sugar also stimulates the secretion of saliva, which has bactericidal properties. Xylitol has an inhibitory effect on the growth of microorganisms that cause inflammation of the middle ear. At the same time, it is a prebiotic beneficial to the intestinal microflora. It can be used to treat candidiasis as a natural agent that inhibits yeast growth of Candida albicans. 

Xylitol reduces protein glycation and AGE levels – this is important for diabetics seeking to compensate for diabetes. Birch sugar is gradually transformed into glucose and glycogen, so it works perfectly well as a component that regenerates energy reserves of muscles after exercise. It is worth combining xylitol with green tea and vitamin C – thus increasing the bioavailability of catechins, which are valued antioxidants. 

Substitute not for everyone 

Birch sugar brings many health benefits, but it is not a product for everyone. People who have irritable bowel syndrome should avoid it with a wide arch. Their digestive system does not tolerate short-chain carbohydrates, which include xylitol. Birch sugar should not be given to children under 3 years of age. 

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You can read also: Sugar – yes or no?

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