How Sweet It Be

Or, why erythritol is my alternative sweetener of choice. I also love me some (real) maple syrup and raw honey. Coconut palm sugar is good too. If you’re curious, those are the sweeteners I keep stocked in my home.

But anyway, erythritol is getting the focus here because we live in a world where sugar is plentiful instead of scarce. Yet, we have bodies that crave sugar because they evolved when it was scarce. Enter obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. As a whole food enthusiast, of course I’m all like, “Yeah, eat good, whole food and keep the sugar at a low. Avoid refined sugar and most processed foods… blah blah blablah.”

But, let’s be real, we live TODAY. And today, we can trick our bodies when they’re being silly!!! Biohack yo! Augmenting my mind to no longer like the taste of sweet is not really an option yet. Training myself to enjoy smaller quantities of sweet is possible and I do work on that. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to deprive myself completely.

So, let’s count the alternative ways to sweeten nature and technology has to offer! Until we can genetically modify our minds to not crave this abundant and over-used flavor (or some such), why not hack our palates and our options?

Actually, let’s not count them all. A great run down can be found here and here to start you off (it misses a few, but unless you’re focal research is in sugars, those others aren’t particularly useful to know about, in my opinion).

I’ll focus on erythritol, what it is, and why I’ve picked it.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, found in and derived from a number of plants and fungi. I found a nice low-down of studies that I’ve explored to share some information.

This little baby is sweet. Perhaps only 60 – 70% the sweetness of regular table sugar, but still pretty sweet [1][24]. And the beautiful thing about it is that it works more-or-less like sugar (dissolves in water and bakes well; and I love using it to make cinnamon sugar. mmm.).

What’s even more beautiful is that it does all that without causing tooth decay [1][5][6][7][10], cancer [7][9][20], cardiac problems [11], or glucose or insulin spikes [1][2][3][4][4][15][19]. Also, it’s an antioxidant [7][8]. It’s a-ok for diabetics [15][18].

It is mostly absorbed and excreted unchanged in the urine making this run through the system fairly cleanly, without causing the spikes associated with other sugar alcohols [12][13][21]. It shows no signs of toxicological effects [14].

The big downfalls (which aren’t that big and generally avoidable) happen high dosing, at over ~40g. Most people have been tested at around 20g, which shows minimal to no side effects. At the higher doses, people occasionally experience diarrhea, gas, and a grumbly tummy [12][13]. Functionally, erythritol is considered to have no digestive side effects [4][22].

One thing some people don’t like, but I love, is the cooling effect [23][24][16].

Note: I’m showing a lot of links and really, a lot of the info overlaps and some of the things I cited for one thing is also a worthy citation for other things. Point is, there is a lot of research that’s been done on this polyol of excellence and at this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that as sweeteners go, it’s a damn good option. It lacks the shortcomings of other sugar alcohols, it has all the benefits of being not-sugar, and in my humble opinion, it’s flavor is superior to most other sweeteners (save the honey and maple syrup (especially maple syrup!)).

If you don’t like the cooling effect or want to eat so much that you might make yourself sick, then maybe it isn’t for you. For me, it’s an awesome way to hack my sweet tooth.

And, if it hasn’t already proven interesting enough as a sweetener, check this out:

“Some synthetic insecticides suffer drawbacks including high production costs, concern over environmental sustainability, harmful effects on human health, targeting non-intended insect species, and the evolution of resistance among insect populations. Thus, there is a large worldwide need and demand for environmentally safe and effective insecticides. Here we show that Erythritol, a non-nutritive sugar alcohol, was toxic to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Ingested erythritol decreased fruit fly longevity in a dose-dependent manner, and erythritol was ingested by flies that had free access to control (sucrose) foods in choice and CAFE studies […] Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that erythritol may be used as a novel, environmentally sustainable and human safe approach for insect pest control.” [17]

 

Note on sources/Disclaimer: Among the primary sources listed below, there are a number of which that I only read the abstracts for so if you observe a mistake in my understanding of one (or more), then please comment and, if I made an error, I will definitely note in the post about it. Also, the reason why there are many sources sited for some of these statements is because studies were often done on small samples so, even though useful, I thought it best to add backup.

Sources:

  1. Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide

  2. meso-Erythritol: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/meso-Erythritol#section=Human-Toxicity-Excerpts
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15914983
  4. Effect of erythritol and xylitol on dental caries prevention in children.
  5. Sugar Alcohols, Caries Incidence, and Remineralization of Caries Lesions: A Literature Review

  6. Erythritol is a sweet antioxidant.
  7. Chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity study of erythritol in rats.
  8. Comparison of erythritol and xylitol saliva stimulants in the control of dental plaque and mutans streptococci.
  9. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/meso-Erythritol#section=Top
  10. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+7968
  11. Plasma and Urine Kinetics of Erythritol after Oral Ingestion by Healthy Humans
  12. Erythritol attenuates the diabetic oxidative stress through modulating glucose metabolism and lipid peroxidation in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
  13. Sugar Alcohols, Caries Incidence, and Remineralization of Caries Lesions: A Literature Review

  14. Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide

  15. Effects of oral administration of erythritol on patients with diabetes.
  16. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects.
  17. Noncariogenicity of erythritol as a substrate.
  18. Metabolism of erythritol in humans: comparison with glucose and lactitol.
  19. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002444.htm
  20. 1,8-Dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-Melanin Biosynthesis Inhibitors Increase Erythritol Production in Torula corallina, and DHN-Melanin Inhibits Erythrose Reductase

  21. Fumarate-Mediated Inhibition of Erythrose Reductase, a Key Enzyme for Erythritol Production by Torula corallina

Photo source: me.

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