You’ve probably heard of artificial sweeteners like stevia, but what about erythritol? In this article, you’ll learn about this sugar substitute, with scientific studies shedding light on erythritol safety, uses, and benefits. This article will answer common questions such as, “is erythritol safe?” as we explore the all-important question that many health-conscious consumers have asked: “Erythritol: good or bad?” You’ll see how erythritol compares to other sugar substitutes like xylitol and stevia, and finally you’ll learn where you can buy erythritol sweetener.
First of all, what is erythritol? Erythritol is a manufactured sweetener made from the fermentation of sucrose and glucose.1 It was originally approved for use as a food additive in Japan in 1990 and was approved in the U.S. by the FDA in 2001.2 Diving into a more scientific erythritol definition, we learn that erythritol is a four carbon sugar alcohol, also called a polyol (this group also includes sorbitol and xylitol). It has approximately 60%-80% of the sweetness of sucrose (conventional sugar).1
Erythritol uses are not restricted to food, with erythritol products ranging from pharmaceutical drugs to toothpastes that use erythritol for flavor, thereby avoiding the oral health risks of sugar. Likewise, this sweetener is a component in chewing gum, diet soft drinks, jam, and yogurt.3 You can also find both granulated erythritol and powdered erythritol for use at home as a sweetener for coffee and tea—and there are also many tips online for baking with erythritol as a replacement for sugar. Finally, in the sugar-free aisle, you’re likely to find erythritol candy, including hard candies, lozenges, and chocolate.
Erythritol & Cancer
Many consumers have asked, “Does erythritol cause cancer?” It’s possible that people are concerned about potential carcinogenic effects of erythritol sugar alcohol because of its association with other artificial sweeteners that have been linked to cancer. Animal studies have shown that certain artificial sweeteners can cause brain tumors and bladder cancer, among other conditions.4 Saccharin, for example, has been linked to bladder cancer, and aspartame may have a connection to breast cancer.3,4 However, studies on erythritol have not produced evidence that it is carcinogenic.
Erythritol Side Effects
There have been few studies conducted on the side effects of erythritol. While there are sources that speak of various erythritol dangers, some of their supporting evidence is not based on scientific evidence. Below, you’ll find a summary of side effects along with available scientific evidence.
Because research confirms that excessive consumption of erythritol has a laxative effect, it’s natural to wonder: does erythritol cause diarrhea? 1,2 While it may induce loose stools temporarily, evidence shows that people can consume higher doses of erythritol than other polyols (like xylitol) before the laxative effect occurs. One study points out that more than half of test subjects experienced no laxative effect, even after consuming 50g (5 teaspoons) of erythritol.2
Does Erythritol Cause Gas?
While no known studies have observed abnormal flatulence from erythritol, gas is frequently attributed to the consumption of sugar alcohols in general.5
Erythritol and IBS
Because the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) vary greatly between people, it appears that IBS may be positively or negatively affected by the consumption of erythritol, depending on which IBS symptoms are already present. One scientific review points out that while sugar alcohols like erythritol are linked to IBS symptoms like increased diarrhea and flatulence, sugar alcohols may also work as an effective treatment of other IBS symptoms like constipation.5
Some people who have tried erythritol report that it induces headaches. If the headaches are indeed caused by erythritol, it’s possible that they’re a result of hypoxemia—low blood oxygen levels—stemming from an erythritol allergy.
One scientific review of erythritol research points out that there were a few cases in which erythritol was found to be an allergen. Side effects included coughing, edema, wheezing, urticaria (skin irritation, itching, and rash), and hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels). The researchers point out that allergic reactions for erythritol are extremely rare.5
Erythritol vs. Stevia vs. Xylitol
Erythritol vs. Stevia: Like erythritol, stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener. However, stevia is made from a natural herb, while erythritol is made from fermented sugars. In terms of taste, stevia is about 10 times sweeter than sucrose, while erythritol offers about 60-80% the sweetness of sucrose.1 Some studies suggest that high intensity sweeteners (those that are much sweeter than sugar) may have negative health impacts. While stevia is included in this group, erythritol is not.2
Erythritol vs Xylitol: Like erythritol, xylitol is a polyol, or sugar alcohol. However, xylitol is not considered a proper erythritol substitute. While erythritol is zero-calorie, xylitol contains 9.6 calories per teaspoon. Studies show that the dose of erythritol that doesn’t cause side effects is higher than other polyols like xylitol. There is also evidence that erythritol doesn’t contribute to tooth decay, which is not the case for xylitol. A savvy shopper will also notice that Xylitol sweeteners generally cost much less than erythritol sweeteners.2
Benefits of Erythritol
The benefits of erythritol include:
1. Acceptable for a ketogenic diet
2. Beneficial for those trying to combat candida
3. Appropriate sugar substitute for diabetics
4. Considered safe for pregnant women
5. Free of Gluten
Like other artificial sweeteners, erythritol may have beneficial effects for people with preexisting metabolic conditions, like diabetes, when acting as a sugar substitute. Keep in mind that while it does have benefits, the erythritol benefits listed below are not necessarily compelling enough to promote erythritol as a healthy and nutritious part of your diet.
Because it is low-carb (roughly 4g carbohydrates in 1 teaspoon), erythritol is generally considered a good option as an alternative sweetener for a ketogenic diet, and it is commonly used in low-carb cooking.
A person on the candida diet must avoid sugar in general. Therefore, some dieters question whether they can consume erythritol and other polyols because of their apparent association with sugar as sugar alcohols. If you’re trying to starve the candida, erythritol (and other sugar alcohols) are acceptable—your body doesn’t recognize these sugar alcohols as sugars, and erythritol especially is absorbed and excreted very quickly, making it an essentially zero-calorie sweetener.2
Erythritol: Diabetes Safe?
When a person consumes erythritol, blood sugar levels are largely unaffected due to the sweetener’s very low insulin index (11=2). This makes erythritol an appropriate sugar substitute for diabetics. In fact, several studies have shown a promising erythritol-diabetes relationship, reporting that erythritol’s antioxidant capacities and beneficial effect on artery health may attenuate some the effects of diabetes.2
Erythritol Pregnancy Safety
It is considered safe to consume erythritol while pregnant, and the available research does not suggest that any artificial sweeteners (including aspartame, neotame, saccharin, stevia, sucralose, polyols, and thaumatin) cause adverse pregnancy outcomes or neonatal effects.6
Is Erythritol Gluten Free?
Yes, as a sugar alcohol, erythritol is gluten-free and can be safely consumed by those allergic or sensitive to gluten.
Nutriton Facts: Is Erythritol Healthy?
Erythritol may have benefits, but is it healthy? While it’s beneficial in certain circumstances, erythritol is not generally considered a nutritious health food. There are other sugar substitutes, such as molasses and manuka honey, that show more promising nutritional benefits, such as anti-oxidant or mineral content. Below, you’ll find the basic erythritol nutrition facts:
Erythritol carbs: 4 per teaspoon
Erythritol calories per gram: 0.2*
Glycemic index of erythritol: 1
Insulin index of erythritol: 11=2
*Because erythritol is quickly absorbed by the small intestine and subsequently excreted, it is considered a zero-calorie sweetener even though it offers a small number of calories (0.2 per gram).
Where to Buy Erythritol
You can buy from a variety of erythritol manufacturers online, with the largest selection on Amazon. Common brand names include Zerose, Swerve, and Zsweet. Another common brand, Truvia, is a blend of erythritol and stevia. It’s most common to find these sweeteners at natural grocery stores or supplement stores.
If you’re looking for organic erythritol, Whole Foods carries the “Now” brand in the U.S., which includes organic erythritol (Whole Foods also carries Zsweet and Swerve). It you’re wondering where to buy erythritol in Canada, you can also check Superstore and Loblaw’s. For those located in the United Kingdom, look online to buy erythritol—UK erythritol retailers are harder to find than in North America.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Chattopadhyay, S., Raychaudhuri, U., & Chakraborty, R. (2014). Artificial sweeteners – a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 51(4), 611–621. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-011-0571-1
- Rzechonek, D., Dobrowolski. A., Rymowic, W,, & Mirończuk, A. (2017) Recent advances in biological production of erythritol. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 1-14. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/07388551.2017.1380598
- Roberts, M. W., & Wright, J. T. (2012). Nonnutritive, Low Caloric Substitutes for Food Sugars: Clinical Implications for Addressing the Incidence of Dental Caries and Overweight/Obesity. International Journal of Dentistry, 2012, 625701. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/625701
- Tandel, K. R. (2011). Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits. Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, 2(4), 236–243. http://doi.org/10.4103/0976-500X.85936
- Mäkinen, K. K. (2016). Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals. International Journal of Dentistry, 2016, 5967907. http://doi.org/10.1155/2016/5967907
- Pope, E., Koren, G., & Bozzo, P. (2014). Sugar substitutes during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician, 60(11), 1003–1005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4229159/