Is Erythritol Bad for You? Understanding the Effects on Health

Erythritol Overview

Erythritol belongs to a category known as sugar alcohols or polyols.

It can be found naturally in certain fruits and is widely used as a low-calorie sweetener.

Unlike table sugar (sucrose) and other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose, erythritol has the advantage of being low in calories, earning it a popular spot in sugar-free and low-sugar products.

Due to its smaller caloric contribution, erythritol offers the sweet taste without the typical energy content found in sugar.

This zero-calorie sweetener is often included in diets geared towards weight management.

Erythritol has a glycemic index of zero, meaning it does not spike blood sugar levels, making it a preferred sugar substitute for people with diabetes.

Manufacturers derive erythritol using a fermentation process that involves glucose from starches.

Among other sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol, erythritol is unique due to its higher digestive tolerance.

Because the body excretes most of it in the urine, only a small percentage enters the colon, leading to fewer digestive issues typically associated with other sugar alcohols.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes erythritol as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used as a food additive.

It is a common ingredient found in a variety of food labels under names like Truvia, a blend of erythritol and stevia, or in blends with other sugar substitutes such as Splenda and Equal.

Erythritol’s role in human health continues to be evaluated.

While it’s considered safe for general consumption, research and consumer experiences are mixed regarding its effects, especially concerning heart health and gastrointestinal tolerance.

It is essential for consumers to check food labels and consider their own dietary needs when choosing sweeteners like erythritol.

Health Implications of Erythritol Consumption

A glass of water with erythritol packets next to a nutrition label

Erythritol, a sugar alcohol commonly used as a low-calorie sweetener, has assorted effects on health that vary from dental benefits to concerns over its impact on cardiovascular health.

Metabolic Effects

Erythritol has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels, which makes it a favored sweetener for individuals with diabetes.

Since it does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels, it is considered safe for a diabetic diet.

However, it can disrupt the normal metabolic process if consumed in large quantities.

Dental Health

This sweetener is non-cariogenic, meaning it does not contribute to the formation of cavities.

Erythritol doesn’t provide food for bacteria in the mouth, and therefore, it helps maintain better dental health as compared to fructose, glucose, and other sugars.

Digestive Responses

Overconsumption of erythritol can lead to digestive issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea since it is not fully absorbed by the body and ferments in the small intestine.

The gastrointestinal effects are generally less severe than those from other sugar alcohols.

Cardiovascular Considerations

There have been associations between erythritol and an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes due to the potential of erythritol to cause platelets to become more adhesive, though the exact risk and mechanisms require further research.

Weight Management and Obesity

Since erythritol contains approximately 0.24 calories per gram, it is often used in diet and keto-friendly products aimed at weight loss.

However, erythritol alone is not sufficient to promote weight loss; calorie reduction and a balanced diet are also vital components.

Risks and Side Effects

The long-term health effects and risks associated with regular consumption of erythritol are not yet fully understood.

Excessive intake can lead to side effects such as nausea and diarrhea, and there is uncertainty about the potential for more serious health issues like metabolic syndrome and major adverse cardiovascular events.