What is Xylitol?

Andy Josiah

Xylitol is a natural hydrogenated carbohydrate that in pure form resembles white crystals and can be used as a sugar substitute or artificial sweetener. It can be found in certain fruits and vegetables, which include corn, oats and berries, as well as in the bark of birch trees. Additionally, humans produce a daily amount of xylitol when the body breaks down its carbohydrates.


The word "xylitol" is of Greek origin. It is a combination of the Greek word "xylos," which means wood, and the suffix "itol," which means alcohol. Xylose can be isolated from a wood source and hydrogenated. This explains why xylitol is classified as a sugar alcohol. Other examples of this group include glycerol and sorbitol.

Some types of chewing gum include xylitol as a sweetener.
Some types of chewing gum include xylitol as a sweetener.

Xylitol was discovered in the late 1800s based on the research of chemists from France and Germany. By the 1960s, xylitol had entered popular use as an alternative sweetener for people with diabetes because the body does not need insulin to process the substance, like it does sugar. Xylitol also provides sweetness without any unpleasant aftertaste. By the end of the 20th century, it had become a common additive for special dietary food products, making it the most popular sugar alcohol in the world.

An additional reason for xylitol's popularity is its similarity to table sugar, or sucrose, but it does not possess the level of sweetness of sucrose. While 1 teaspoon of the hydrogenated carbohydrate has about 10 kilocalories (kcals), the same amount of table sugar offers 15 kcals. Thus xylitol contains less energy than sucrose, which considerably lowers its impact on the blood sugar level of people with diabetes. Moreover, due to the adverse effects of excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates, the substance can be used to prevent or combat conditions such as blood pressure, weight gain, bad cholesterol, low blood sugar levels, and by extension, heart disease, obesity and hypoglycemia.

The most well known use for this particular sugar alcohol is in chewing gum and hard candy. It is also known for its oral hygiene applications. Such use was discovered in the 1970s, when Finnish researchers suggested that the substance could be greatly beneficial to dental health. Specifically, xylitol can be used to reduce plaque formation, assist in halting the development of cavities and increase saliva for repairing damaged enamel in teeth. It can be found in dental products such as toothpaste, fluoride tablets and mouthwash.

The use of xylitol is common among individuals with blood sugar regulation issues.
The use of xylitol is common among individuals with blood sugar regulation issues.

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Discussion Comments


I don't really care for foods with xylitol. I don't mind eating foods with regular sugar. The only xylitol product I use is xylitol nasal spray which was recommended to me by my doctor. This nasal spray is great and clears up congestion right away. Whenever I feel that my allergies are going to act up, I start using this nasal spray and it prevents my allergies. It's also very helpful when I'm sick and have a stuffy nose.

People with chronic allergies definitely need to give this nasal spray a try. My doctor said that it works because it prevents bacteria growth and it's also very soothing. I'm not sure how it works exactly for allergies but it does.


@ZipLine-- I agree with you that we need to have foods with xylitol in moderation. I don't think it's a dangerous ingredient, I just don't think it should be consumed in excess, like all things.

The only side effect of xylitol I have experienced is diarrhea but products with xylitol do mention this on the label. The label of such products usually have a warning statement that excessive consumption can have a laxative effect. But I don't think any other side effects of xylitol has been noted so far.


Sugar alcohols actually technically have nothing to do with sugar. Since it doesn't affect blood sugar levels, it's becoming more and more popular as a sugar substitute. Proponents say that this is an all natural and safe product. But considering how many foods and drinks contain xylitol nowadays, I think it will cause some unwanted side effects in the long term. I think that we Americans are already consuming too much of the substance in sodas, gum, candy and other sweets.

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