You’ve probably heard of erythritol sugar substitute. It’s often combined with stevia in some of the more common sugar substitutes but have you ever wondered if erythritol is safe to eat?
Recently I’ve had a few questions about erythritol so I thought it would make a great topic for our Food Facts sessions.
I started thinking about all the times I’ve been asked about erythritol and it is quite a few. I think that is because it is in stevia products like truvia, natvia, and other natural sweetener products on the shelf and when people discover it not only contains stevia but erythritol as well they are often asking questions.
So what is erythritol exactly?
Erythiritol is a hydronated form of carbohydrate used as a replacement for sugar. Chemically erythritol is known as 1,2,3,4-butanetetrol. It’s a natural C4 polyol and is 60-80% of the sweetness of sugar. Erythritol is one of the sugar alcohols, you might have also heard of xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol.
Erythiritol is often claimed to be “natural” because it can be found in nature such as in seaweeds, fungi/mushrooms, and fruits like melons, grapes and pears. The erythiritol metabolite can also be found in fermented foods like soy auce and miso, wine, beer, and cheese.
It’s only been in our food supply since 1990 and is used to sweeten foods. According to one study I found it’s also “used as a flavor enhancer, formulation aid, humectants, nutritive sweetener, stabilizer and thickener, sequestrant and texturizer”. (1)
How Is Erythritol Produced?
Since erythritol is now a commonly used sweetener, it gets produced in large amounts using a chemical and fermentation process. Most commonly on a large scale it gets produced using “fermentative processes with pure glucose, sucrose, and glucose from chemically and enzymatically hydrolyzed wheat and corn starches”. (2) It can also be made through particular species of yeast and bacteria used in combo, or made by lactic acid bacteria. The fermented solution is then purified and crystalized into a pure polyol (sugar alcohol). Like I said erythritol is often found in combo with other sweeteners such as stevia. It helps to buff them both out and distribute the sweet flavour more evenly.
What about Erythritol in our body?
Well according to researchers 90% of erythritol does not get metabolised by the body. It does get absorbed in the small intestine but does not ‘uptake’ into the body but all gets excreted in urine. It does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels so as a result it has been promoted safe for consumption on a diabetic diet.
Interestingly one study I read has shown that erythritol has a protective effect on diabetic stress to the endothelium. The endothelium is the thin layer of cells that lines all the blood vessels and lymph vessels in the body. These linings get affected in a negative way by diabetes and can contribute to health complications. Erythritol does not influence a person with normal blood sugar in the same way but only influences diabetics and according to this study could provide a slight beneficial effect on health. (1)
Studies have been conducted with high doses of erythritol and it appears no toxic affects or side affects have been noted.
Is Erythritol Safe To Eat?
Well, it is an approved food additive and the logic is that erythritol has been consumed by humans for centuries in the form of fruits and other foods.
As far as sugar alcohols go it’s one of the best because it is produced by “natural” means and this makes it one of the better ones to handle for most people as far as digestion goes. Whereas some of the other sugar alcohols cause stomach upsets such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, and cramps. This is because it has a very small molecule size compared to the other ‘tols’ like xylitol.
If you’re on a strict no sugar diet plan or low carb plan then you might consider using erythritol. When I was doing research on this some time ago I personally couldn’t find any information about reported side affects or studies to prove any adverse affects to our health otherwise so yes erythritol seems to be safe. But it’s also important to note that overall I couldn’t find that many studies.
I think that as far as sweeteners go it’s certainly better than aspartame and does make stevia a little more tolerable for most people and makes it better for baking too. Stevia by itself isn’t favourable to many people and the way some of the brands have combined the stevia and erythritol means you can replace it equally for sugar and that makes it easier for people in general.
If you want to reduce your sugar intake I think it is a fairly good option. I use mostly liquid stevia myself but I have tried these products and they do taste okay, so in that sense it could be more about what you like the taste of as well.
Like anything, at the end of the day it is your choice but at least when you have the facts you can make a more informed decision. So I hope this helps you understand the facts about erythritol a bit more.
Take care of you.
Nutritionist & Health Coach
1. Danielle M, Boesten J, Berger A, Cock P, Don H, Hammock BD, Gertjan MJ, et al. Multi-Targeted Mechanisms Underlying the Endothelial Protective Effects of the Diabetic-Safe Sweetener Erythritol. Plos One. 2013 Jun; 8(6):e65741.
2. Moon HJ, Jeya M, Kim I Lee JK. Biotechnological production of erythritol and its applications. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2010; 86:1017–1025.