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What is Erythritol? A Natural Healthy Sweetener

What is Erythritol? A Natural Healthy Sweetener
One of the wonderful health benefits of being on a keto diet is being able to get rid of sugar cravings. At the same time, though, you don't need to have a lack of sweetness in your food and drink.

Erythritol is a natural healthy sweetener you may want to have in your kitchen for your keto diet.

Read on to learn more about erythritol and its unique health benefits that can support you on your keto journey.

What Is Erythritol, Exactly?

Erythritol is a naturally occurring sweetener in certain fruits and vegetables. It is in mushrooms, watermelons, pears, peaches, and grapes. It is also created during the fermentation of cheese, wine, beer, sake, wine, and soy sauce.

Believe it or not, it's been around a long time. First discovered in 1848 by John Stenhouse, a Scottish chemist, it was then isolated in 1852. It was specifically found in the process of fermenting black strap molasses with yeast, and it was finally commercialized in 1990s Japan.

Don't let the part about molasses scare you, though. It is not quite as sweet as sugar, being 70% as sweet. It's also nothing like sugar, being only a sugar substitute. More specifically, it's a sugar alcohol, which is a type of carbohydrate.

With absolutely no calories but giving about as much sweetness as sugar, it's ideal for the keto diet and anyone looking to eliminate the addictive, waistline-expanding white stuff.

How Erythritol is Made

The main method of producing erythritol involves the industrial processing of either corn or wheat, but usually corn. First, glucose is extracted in the form of starch using enzymatic hydrolysis. The glucose at this point needs to be fermented either by yeast, bacterial strains, or a combination in a process using hydrolysis. The typical fermenting agent is a yeast called Moniliella pollinis.

Then, it is necessary to clean the product to get rid of all impurities and result in high-purity erythritol. The manufacturers do so in many steps, starting with cleaning the fermentation liquid by passing it through solid absorbents. They then pass it through small filters to straight particles of 0.01 to 0.1 mm in size, which totally cleans it of the fungus.

The final step is a crystallization process to change it into the powdered form many keto dieters use. Cooling the remaining liquid makes erythritol precipitate and become a solid, allowing manufacturers to separate it. The more it is repeated, the higher the level of purity it has. Erythritol is generally over 99.5% pure.

There are other methods of making erythritol, too. A GMO yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica has been used in the fermentation process of glucose. By using high osmotic pressure and glycerol as a carbon source, this method increases yields up to 62%. Also, a method using electrochemical synthesis is in development.

What Sugar Alcohol Is and What It Means For You

To understand sugar alcohol, it's important to look deeper into the creation of erythritol, starting with starch. Starch is a compound that has glucose molecules bonded to each other and forming long chains, while glucose is a natural, common sugar found in sucrose, which we know as table sugar or granulated sugar.

What fermentation does is change one or more sugars into alcohol, also called sugar alcohol. In the chemical conversion, this means the glucose carbonyl group changes into a hydroxyl group and the molecule changes from having 6 carbon atoms to 4. As you can see, sugar alcohol is not a type of sugar, but a type of carbohydrate. It is a by-product of the fermentation process.

What Erythritol is Used for

Erythritol is used as a great man-made sweetener and flavour enhancer for people on a low-sugar or sugar-free diet. It is an excellent replacement for sugar for keto dieters and diabetics alike. The sugar substitute comes in a powdered form and bakes the same way sugar does, while also adding bulk and texture.

Is Erythritol Safe to Use Daily?

The good news is that erythritol doesn't have serious side effects and has FDA approval. In fact, studies in humans show very few side effects. The main one is minor digestive issues in some people. Even studies where animals were fed high amounts for long periods of time showed no negative effects. For humans, a very high intake may cause digestive issues.

There are certain health benefits that come from using erythritol, too. If you're looking for a sugar substitute that is not only safe but helps your health in tangible ways, your search may be over with this popular choice. Check out the following perks:
  • Unlike sugar, erythritol is not absorbed by the body and so will not make you gain weight.
  • Erythritol won't spike blood sugar or insulin response unlike other sugar alcohols, so you don't have to worry about limiting how much you use.
  • It may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Also used in some chewing gums, the sweetener reduces plaque and makes it harder for new plaque to form. But even in daily food and drink, erythritol reduces the risk of cavities. Oral bacteria can't metabolize it.
  • It has antibacterial properties against streptococci bacteria, the same bacteria that causes strep throat.

Are There Any Dangers in Erythritol?

The danger in typical processed sweeteners is not that necessarily they are absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine, but that they are digested by intestinal bacteria. This doesn't happen at all with erythritol, 90% of which is absorbed by the body before entering the large intestine. The remaining 10% of it enters the colon and is excreted through faeces. It is also excreted mostly unchanged in urine.

The main concern with other sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, and lactitol is digestive issues even in small amounts, including laxative effects, gas, and bloating. Large amounts of erythritol can cause diarrhoea, stomach rumbling, and nausea. It will cause laxative effects in doses greater than 0.66g/kg body weight for males and 0.8g/kg body weight for females, and diarrhoea in doses more than 50g. A very rare side effect is allergic hives (urticaria).

Nutritional Facts About Erythritol

  • Erythritol has few to no calories, having 95% fewer calories than sugar and other carbohydrates. In some places it is labeled as zero-calorie.
  • It has 4 grams of carbohydrates per every one-teaspoon serving.
  • There is zero fat, sodium, fiber, sugars, and protein.

All of this information should help you decide on a sugar substitute. Even if you don't think you'll ever need a sweetener, you'll want to have one on hand in case you are still getting over sugar cravings while adjusting to ketosis.

Erythritol just might be the right sugar substitute for your diet and health needs.

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