Bowl of erythritol sweetener

What is Erythritol and Is It Safe?

With sugar and its negative health effects increasingly coming into focus, alternative sweeteners are more popular than ever.

As such, you may have now heard of the sweetener erythritol and have questions about whether it’s safe, if it’s healthy, and more. Although it seems new, it’s actually been around for some time. In fact, it occurs naturally in some foods and has been in use as a sweetener since 1990.

What is erythritol?

Erythritol is what’s known as a sugar alcohol. These are compounds that chemically resemble sugar and alcohol (it’s worth noting they don’t contain any actual alcohol). They occur naturally in certain foods and come from plant products such as fruits and berries.

Sugar alcohols have a sweet taste and are lower in calories than regular sugar and as a result, are a popular ingredient in low-calorie and low-sugar foods. Other sugar alcohols you see on food labels include isomalt, xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol.

Erythritol sets itself apart from other sugar alcohols due to its much lower calorie content. For example, erythritol contains only 0.24 calories per gram vs 2.4 calories per gram in xylitol, 2.6 calories per gram for sorbitol, and 4 calories per gram for sugar. Even with its tremendously lower calorie content, erythritol is nearly as sweet as sugar (around 70%) so it’s easy to understand its increasing popularity.

Is Erythritol Safe?

Generally, erythritol has been found to be safe to consume. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it naturally occurs in foods like fruits and vegetables though in small amounts.

Although erythritol is safe to consume, certain populations will want to know exactly how it will interact with their bodies in a few key areas.

Erythritol and Gut Health

Erythritol is well-tolerated by healthy people with no existing digestive issues. However, those with IBS, SIBO, or who have had bad reactions may want to avoid erythritol as it can make symptoms worse.

Most sugar alcohols remain undigested until reaching the colon where they are fermented and release gases that cause bloating and discomfort. Unlike other sugar alcohols, erythritol doesn’t seem to have this effect. Instead, it mostly gets absorbed into the bloodstream before reaching the colon. After that, it mostly passes through the urine unchanged.

How Erythritol Metabolizes

When erythritol is consumed, around 90% enters the bloodstream and 10% makes its way to the intestines where some is excreted unchanged and some is digested by intestinal bacteria at the lower part of the large intestine, thereby generating short-chain fatty acids and other organic acids.

Erythritol and Blood-Glucose Levels

Erythritol has not been found to spike blood-glucose levels in healthy individuals or those with diabetes. Extremely small-scale studies found no negative effect in diabetic patients after ingesting erythritol one time in one study and consuming it regularly over the course of two weeks in a separate study.

Many sugar-free foods contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources so erythritol-sweetened foods should still be eaten with care.

Erythritol and Heart Health

small pilot study suggests erythritol might improve circulation by way of improving small-vessel endothelial function, especially for those with diabetes. The data also points to an ability to improve circulation by way of reducing arterial stiffness.

With these findings, erythritol might have a slightly positive effect on heart health.

*The linked study did not have a control group and further studies are needed to say whether this benefit is conclusive and not a result of outside factors like participants exercising more or eating better.

Erythritol and Dental Health

Erythritol, unlike sugar, doesn’t have any damaging effects on teeth and may even have a positive impact on dental health.

The reason this happens is that when sugar is consumed, the bacteria in the mouth feeds on it and release acids that damage tooth enamel. Studies have indicated that erythritol, on the other hand, may even suppress the growth of these bacteria directly. Studies have yet to show any definitive link between erythritol use and a decrease in tooth cavities though.

How Much Erythritol is Okay to Consume?

There are no official guidelines but people can generally tolerate 1 gram of erythritol per 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight.

This means the average American man, weighing 90 kilograms (199 pounds) could safely tolerate 90 grams of erythritol per day while the average American woman weighing 77 kilograms (170 pounds) could tolerate 77 grams of erythritol.

How to Use Erythritol

You can generally use erythritol the same way you would use sugar; add it to your coffee or try using it in place of sugar in your baking. Keep in mind that erythritol is only about 70% as sweet as sugar. Recipes might need some adjustment and you may find the textures to be slightly different.

Bottom Line

Erythritol is an increasingly popular alternative sweetener that falls into the category of sugar alcohols. Its key benefits are that it’s been found to be safe for those with diabetes, is low in calories, and may even help with dental health. Those who already have gut health conditions like IBD, IBS or Crohn’s may still want to use it with caution.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have immediate concerns about your health, please seek the help of your physician. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

Stevia vs Sugar

As people recognize some of the downsides of sugar, certain alternative sweeteners are gaining popularity and recognition. Because of this, you’re probably seeing Stevia everywhere, and with good reason. It’s plant-based, free of calories, and doesn’t seem to negatively affect digestion or blood sugar.

So let’s take a deeper look at Stevia and how it compares to sugar.


What is Stevia?

Stevia sweeteners simply referred to as Stevia, are derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia is typically 250-300 times sweeter than sugar. Although you may have only recently heard of stevia, the plants have been enjoyed for their sweetness and medicinal properties for hundreds of years.


How is Stevia Made

Stevia sweeteners are made by extracting steviol glycosides from the leaves of the stevia plant and purifying them to remove their bitter aftertaste.

The process of extracting steviol glycosides from leaves normally follows four steps.


1. Stevia leaves are picked and dried.

2. Then, the leaves are steeped in hot water.

3. Leaf particles and solids are filtered out of the liquid.

4. The resulting liquid goes through several further stages of filtering and centrifuging.


The resulting product must then be 95% steviol glycosides to be considered food-grade stevia. Manufacturers then choose how to package the stevia by form and usage. Pure stevia extract is so much sweeter than sugar (250-300 times) that using it can be somewhat difficult so additives like maltodextrin, dextrose, inulin, or erythritol are often added to provide volume.


How is Sugar Made

Sugar, like stevia, is also extracted from plants specifically sugar cane and sometimes sugar beets both of which are mostly grown in tropical climates. Most plants also contain sugar in their tissues but not in the amounts which would be practical or economical to extract. The manufacturing process starts with crushing sugar cane, then heating the resulting juice, filtering, and a series of crystallization steps to create crystals of raw sugar. Then several other processes take place that creates molasses and white sugar crystals.


The Benefits of Stevia

As a newer alternative sweetener, the studies on stevia are smaller in scale but there are promising signs that stevia can provide the following benefits.


Weight Management

Stevia’s lack of calories means that if one partially or fully replaces sugar with stevia, then weight loss is possible. There’s always the concern that one can overestimate the benefits and overcompensate with other calories or even experience increased cravings. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case with stevia.

In a small-scale study of 31 adults, those who ate a 290-calorie snack made with stevia ate the same amount of food at the next meal as those who ate a 500-calorie snack made with sugar. The stevia group also reported similar levels of fullness meaning they felt just as full while eating fewer calories. More data is needed but this is a promising indication of how stevia can be used for weight maintenance.


Blood Glucose Levels

Stevia doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and may even positively contribute to the health of the pancreas. In a small-scale controlled study of 34 patients with type 2 diabetes, the group who had stevia-sweetened tea for 8 weeks didn’t see any difference in fasting blood sugar vs the control group nor did they have any differences in insulin, glycosylated hemoglobin or lipid levels.


Might be Beneficial for Heart Health

Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels are something to watch out for as they can be precursors to heart disease. Stevia might have minor positive effects on both of these or at least doesn’t seem to have the same damaging effect as sugar.

In one study, women consumed 20 milligrams of stevia extract in a glass of water for one month. At the end of the study, the women experienced lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, decreased triglycerides, and increased HDL (good) cholesterol. The study notes that it’s uncertain whether a smaller amount of stevia consumed more occasionally would yield the same sort of benefit.


Stevia’s Downsides


Stevia extracts might be neutral to your blood sugar but certain brands of stevia sweeteners contain additives that may not be. For example, the popular additive maltodextrin can negatively affect blood sugar levels for some people.

Stevia has an Aftertaste

Stevia, though sweet, has a slightly different taste than sugar and many people report a slightly bitter aftertaste.


How Stevia Metabolizes vs Sugar

Steviol glycosides pass through the upper digestive system largely unchanged before reaching the colon where gut microbes break off the glucose molecules and use them as an energy source. The remaining steviol backbone is then metabolized by the liver and excreted through urine.

Glucose from sugar, on the other hand, causes the pancreas to release insulin which causes cells to take in the glucose returning serum levels to normal. Insulin will turn off fat burning and promote glucose burning as the body’s primary fuel source. Any excess glucose ends up being stored as glycogen in the muscles or as fat in the body’s tissues.

Those explanations may be a bit abstract but the experience of metabolizing stevia vs sugar will be drastically different. While stevia’s non-nutritive properties allow you to not really experience much difference, sugar will cause crashes and subsequent cravings in the near term. Excessive sugar consumption in the long term can result in higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease which are all linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.


Is Stevia Healthier than Sugar?

As a non-nutritive sweetener that doesn’t seem to increase blood glucose levels or cravings, stevia could be a healthy alternative to sugar. However, studies on stevia are sparse and long-term studies on the matter haven’t really been conducted.

The best steps to take for health seem to be reducing overall calorie intake, eating whole foods, and reducing your intake of sweets whether they’re made with sugar or stevia. And, of course, getting adequate sleep and exercise.


How to Use Stevia

You can generally use stevia like you would table sugar; Add a bit to your coffee or cereal for that desired sweetness. Note that if you’re baking, stevia won’t brown the way sugar does and it can also affect the texture of your baked goods. Some have found success by mixing sugar and stevia to dampen the aftertaste while reducing overall sugar content.


Bottom Line

With the recent popularity of stevia, many wonder whether it can be a healthy alternative to sugar, with all early indications and speculation seeming to point to this. Sugar can be destructive to the body in a number of ways so it’s important to look for ways to consume less whether it’s by gradually cutting back or making substitutions with alternatives like stevia.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have immediate concerns about your health, please seek the help of your physician. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.