Erythritol: how healthy is the sugar substitute?

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It’s human nature to favour foods with a sweet taste as they provide a quick shot of energy. Once a help to human survival, the substance can now lead to obesity or diabetes.

Erythritol as a sugar substitute

Low-sugar and low-carb diets are popular nutritional trends. It's therefore not surprising that interest is high in a sweetener that's practically calorie-free and safe for our health and, in terms of taste and texture, is almost identical to sucrose – our household sugar. We’re talking about erythritol, a sugar alcohol or sugar substitute.

Properties

The sweetening power of erythritol is about 60-70% of that of conventional sugar. However, the sugar alcohol provides very little energy (at about 20 kCal/100g, twenty times less than sucrose) and is not insulin effective. This means that when it's absorbed by the body, no insulin is released into the blood. Erythritol can therefore be incorporated into the eating plans of diabetics or people in risk groups.

Erythritol has the following properties:

  • thermally stable
  • odourless
  • absorbs practically no liquid, which prevents the formation of clumps and doesn't offer a breeding ground for fungi
  • doesn't cause caries, which is why the additive is often used in sugar-free chewing gums and sweets

Use

Dissolved in water, erythritol leaves a cooling taste on the tongue – making it ideal for a refreshing low-calorie summer drink. It can also be used for baking, and for making desserts. Combined with protein-rich foods such as quark or yoghurt, it is highly satisfying and staves off hunger. If erythritol is used for sweetening, and the same sweetness as granulated sugar is required, the quantity must be increased by about a quarter. Erythritol can also be used to gradually become accustomed to a less sweet taste.

Effect

Like other sugar alcohols, erythritol is classified as safe for our health. The body absorbs 90% of the sugar substitute through the small intestine and excretes it unchanged via the kidneys. This greatly reduces the level of flatulence associated with other sugar alcohols, since these are mainly caused by the bacterial fermentation of sweeteners in the large intestine. To be on the safe side, people with sensitive intestines, fructose or histamine intolerance should avoid sugar substitutes, for although erythritol is classified as a safe food additive, no long-term studies on its effect have yet been made.

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Production

Erythritol is produced through fermentation. And, as with many biotechnological processes, genetic engineering methods can be used – for example, in the maize used as the starting product or the fungal cultures required for fermentation.


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