What Is Erythritol? Where Is It Used?
what is erythritol

What is Erythritol? Understanding Its Uses & Benefits

With about 70% of the sweetness of sugar but almost none of the calories, here’s all you need to know about erythritol.

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Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is becoming increasingly popular as a low-calorie sweetener. It is known for its ability to deliver about 70% of the sweetness of sugar while contributing virtually no calories. It occurs naturally in certain fruits like grapes and melons, as well as in fermented foods such as cheese and soy sauce. However, most of the erythritol you find in food products is produced from corn through a fermentation process. 

In this blog we talk more on erythritol, its uses, benefits and other aspects that you need to know about.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is extensively used as a low-calorie sweetener and food additive. It is used in a variety of products, including beverages, chocolates, and pastry items. It has around 70% of the sweetness of sugar but contains nearly no calories.

The commercial production of erythritol began in the 1990s, primarily in Japan, where it was initially used in food and beverage products. Since then, it has gained popularity worldwide as a sugar substitute, particularly in the health and wellness markets.

Where is Erythritol Used?

Erythritol is a versatile sweetener used in various food, beverage, and health-related products. Its properties make it suitable for a wide range of applications:

1. Sugar-Free Candies and Chocolates

Erythritol is a popular ingredient in sugar-free candies and chocolates. Its ability to provide sweetness without the added calories or negative impact on blood sugar levels makes it an ideal choice for these products. It also contributes to the texture and mouthfeel, providing a similar experience to sugar-based candies and chocolates.

  • Benefits: Reduced calorie intake, safe for diabetics, non-cariogenic
  • Examples: Sugar-free hard candies, chocolate bars, gummy candies.

2. Baked Goods

In baking, erythritol is used to create low-calorie and sugar-free versions of various baked goods. It can be used alone or in combination with other sweeteners to achieve the desired sweetness and texture.

  • Benefits: Lowers the calorie content of baked goods, maintains sweetness, and is heat-stable.
  • Examples: Cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries. 
baked goods

3. Soft Drinks and Energy Drinks

Erythritol is often used in diet and sugar-free soft drinks and energy drinks. It provides sweetness without the calories and has a clean, sweet taste that complements these beverages.

  • Benefits: Reduces calorie and sugar content, suitable for diabetics, no aftertaste.
  • Examples: Diet sodas, sugar-free energy drinks, flavored sparkling waters.
cold drinks

4. Chewing Gum

In chewing gum, it helps to provide sweetness while also contributing to the gum’s texture. It is preferred because it does not cause tooth decay and can even have protective effects against cavities.

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  • Benefits: Non-cariogenic, contributes to the texture and chewability, low-calorie.
  • Examples: Sugar-free chewing gums, dental gums.

5. Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts

Erythritol is used in ice creams and frozen desserts to create sugar-free or reduced-sugar options. It helps to lower the calorie content while maintaining the sweetness and creamy texture that consumers expect.

  • Benefits: Lowers calorie and sugar content, enhances texture, no sugar spikes.
  • Examples: Sugar-free ice creams, low-calorie frozen yogurts, sorbets.
ice cream

6. Medications and Oral Care Products

It is also used in various medications and oral care products due to its sweetening properties and dental benefits. In medications, it can mask unpleasant tastes, while in oral care products, it helps to prevent tooth decay.

  • Benefits: Non-cariogenic, pleasant taste, helps to mask unpleasant flavors in medications.
  • Examples: Toothpaste, mouthwash, chewable vitamins, sugar-free cough syrups.

Benefits of Erythritol

This segment explains the benefits of Erythritol. Let’s have a look at each one below:

1. Low in Calories

Erythritol is low in calories. This makes it a popular choice for people trying to cut back on their calorie intake.

2. Blood Sugar Management

It has little effect on blood glucose and insulin levels, making it appropriate for diabetics.

3. Oral Health

Unlike sugar, erythritol does not cause tooth decay and may help prevent cavities.

4. Gut-Friendly

It is generally well tolerated and does not induce the same digestive problems as other sugar alcohols, such as bloating and diarrhea.

Potential Side Effects

In addition to the benefits of Erythritol, one must also be wary about the potential side effects :

  1. Cost: Erythritol can be more expensive than other sweeteners due to its production process.
  2. Cooling Effect: It can produce a cooling sensation in the mouth, which some people may find undesirable in certain foods.
  3. Digestive Issues: While generally well-tolerated, consuming large amounts of erythritol can still cause digestive discomfort in some individuals, including gas and bloating.

Erythritol vs Other Sweeteners

Erythritol provides sweetness with fewer calories due to its unique chemical structure and metabolic pathway:

a. Chemical Structure

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) with a chemical structure that allows it to activate the sweetness receptors on our tongues, much like sugar. However, it differs from sugar in that it contains fewer calories. While regular sugar (sucrose) has about 4 calories per gram, erythritol has only about 0.2 calories per gram. This drastic reduction in caloric content is a key factor in how erythritol provides sweetness with fewer calories.

b. Different Metabolic Route 

Erythritol is metabolized differently than other sugars and sugar alcohols. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

  • Absorption: Erythritol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestine after being consumed. Unlike other sugar alcohols, it is not digested by gut bacteria in the large intestine, resulting in fewer digestive difficulties.
  • Excretion: About 90% of the absorbed erythritol is eliminated unaltered in the urine. This means that erythritol is not metabolized by the body into glucose or fat, so it does not raise blood sugar levels or offer considerable caloric energy.

c. Sweetness Perception

Erythritol is roughly 60-70% as sweet as sugar. This means that, to attain the same level of sweetness, you would need to use slightly more erythritol than sugar. However, because erythritol has relatively few calories, adding a little extra results in a much decreased caloric intake.

Regulatory Considerations For Erythritol

Erythritol is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by various food safety authorities globally. However, there are specific regulatory considerations and approvals that vary by region:

  1. United States: In the U.S., erythritol is classified as GRAS by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This classification means it is considered safe for consumption based on a history of common use in food or on the results of scientific research.
  2. European Union: Erythritol is approved for use as a food additive in the European Union. It is listed under the code E968. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has evaluated erythritol and confirmed its safety for consumption.
  3. Japan : Erythritol has been allowed as a food additive in Japan since 1990, and it is commonly used in a variety of food products.
  4. Canada: Health Canada has also approved its use in food goods, deeming it a safe sweetener.

Other nations, including Australia, India, and New Zealand, have also shown approval for use in food and beverages.

Acceptable Daily Intake For Erythritol

The ADI is a measure of how much of an ingredient (such as a food additive) can be consumed every day for a lifetime without posing a significant health risk. Erythritol is one of the few sweeteners for which no ADI has been determined by major food safety bodies, such as the FDA and EFSA.

Guidance on Consumption

While no specific ADI exists, some information on intake limits is provided based on studies and practical observations:

  • Digestive tolerance: Although it is generally well tolerated, excessive consumption (more than 50 grams per day for adults) might induce digestive difficulties such as bloating and diarrhea due to its osmotic impact on the digestive tract.
  • Recommended limits: To avoid potential digestive discomfort, it is frequently recommended that adults limit their erythritol intake to less than 30 grams per day, and children consume even less.

Production Process

Erythritol is commercially produced by fermenting glucose from cornstarch. The method typically involves the following steps:

  • Starch Hydrolysis: Hydrolysis converts cornstarch into glucose.
  • Fermentation: The glucose is then fermented with yeast or other microbes to yield erythritol.
  • Purification: The resulting erythritol is refined and crystallized to remove contaminants and make it safe to consume.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Here are some interesting FAQs on erythritol:

 Yes, it is safe for diabetics as it has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels and insulin response.

Erythritol has about 0.2 calories per gram, significantly lower than regular sugar, which contains about 4 calories per gram. This makes it an excellent choice for those looking to reduce caloric intake.

The research published in Nature Medicine on February 27, 2023, concludes that there is some connection between erythritol intake and increased blood clot formation. As per the findings of the study, erythritol consumption may lead to faster formation of blood clots. This could potentially result in a higher risk of heart attack or stroke if clots travel to vital organs.

Conclusion

As we conclude our blog on erythritol, it is clear that this sugar alternative is increasingly popular today. From its low-calorie content to its tooth-friendly qualities, it has emerged as a leader in the search for healthier sweeteners. Beyond its practical benefits, it signifies a paradigm shift in our approach to nutrition.

However, like any nutritional component, moderation is essential. As a result, it’s critical to add this sugar alcohol into your diet in moderation, experiencing its sweetness without indulging.

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