What is Erythritol?

Highlights

  • Erythritol is a type of carbohydrate called a sugar alcohol, or polyol.
  • Erythritol is unique from other sugar alcohols because it contains zero calories.
  • Erythritol occurs naturally in a variety of foods (e.g., grapes, mushrooms, pears and watermelon) and some fermented foods and beverages like beer, cheese, sake, soy sauce and wine. Erythritol is also commercially produced using fermentation.
  • Erythritol’s safety has been confirmed by numerous health authorities around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization.
  • Erythritol does not impact blood glucose or insulin secretion and contributes to oral health.

THE BASICS OF ERYTHRITOL

Erythritol (pronounced Ear-rith-ri-tall) is a type of carbohydrate called a sugar alcohol, or polyol, which are water-soluble compounds that occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It is also commercially produced by fermentation from a simple sugar derived from corn, called dextrose. It’s used as a zero-calorie sweetener to help replace calories from carbohydrates and sugars in packaged foods and beverages. In addition to providing sweetness, erythritol also helps foods retain moisture.

Erythritol safety has been reviewed and confirmed by health authorities around the world. Japan approved erythritol for use in foods in 1990. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed its safety in 1999 and in 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recognized erythritol as safe.

While the safety of erythritol and other sugar alcohols is is well-documented, some sugar alcohols, when eaten in excessive amounts, can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including gas, bloating and diarrhea. As a result, foods that contain the sugar alcohols sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning on their label about potential laxative effects. Erythritol is better tolerated than sorbitol or mannitol, so foods that contain erythritol do not need to carry that warning label.

ERYTHRITOL AND HEALTH

Like most sugar alcohols, erythritol is not as sweet as sugar: It’s only about 60-80 percent as sweet. Its lack of calories makes erythritol unique among sugar alcohols, most of which have around two calories per gram (for reference, sugar has about four calories per gram). Erythritol’s contributions to health go beyond the potential to replace calories from carbohydrates and sugar in our diet. Two areas where erythritol is known for its positive effects are oral health and blood sugar.

Oral Health

Sugar alcohols like erythritol have been shown to benefit oral health in a number of ways. Primarily, because they are noncariogenic: in other words, they don’t contribute to cavity formation. Erythritol inhibits the growth of a specific type of oral bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) known to be associated with cavities. Therefore, sugar alcohols like erythritol do not promote tooth decay. Some sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol are also considered nonacidogenic, which means they help decrease the amount of acid produced by the oral bacteria that can damage tooth enamel. Because of these attributes, the FDA has recognized erythritol and other sugar alcohols as beneficial to oral health.

Blood sugar

Erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine, but it is not metabolized. Instead, it’s eliminated unchanged from the body through the urine. This makes erythritol helpful for people with diabetes because it doesn’t provide carbohydrates, sugar or calories, and therefore does not affect blood glucose levels or insulin secretion.

RECOMMENDED INTAKES

There are no formal recommendations for erythritol intake. Some have estimated erythritol consumption from whole foods in the U.S. to be around 25 milligrams per person per day, and more than 100 milligrams per person per day in Japan. Although symptoms of gastrointestinal distress have been noted with excessive intakes, erythritol is considered to be well-tolerated up to one gram per kilogram of body weight per day, which would be 68 grams of erythritol for someone weighing 150 pounds.

For those following a low Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols (FODMAP) diet, food sources of erythritol are monitored because erythritol is a type of polyol. Although erythritol is considered a low-FODMAP item, it can affect the absorption of fructose which can be important for those conducting a fructose challenge as part of a low-FODMAP diet.

FOOD SOURCES OF ERYTHRITOL

Erythritol is found naturally in fruits like grapes, peaches, pears and watermelon. It’s also found in mushrooms and fermented foods like beer, cheese, sake, soy sauce and wine. In addition to whole foods, erythritol is commercially produced for use in baked goods, beverages, candies, chewing gums, chocolates and tabletop sweetener packets.

Interested in learning the basics of other food, nutrition and health topics? Check out our “What Is” series.