Is Xylitol Bad for You?

Love to indulge your sweet tooth every so often but hate what sugar does to you? Well, xylitol is a popular sweetener that has replaced sugar in cookies, candies and a lot of other sweet treats. Now, the question here is, is xylitol safe? If yes, then how safe? If no, then why not?
Before we reach a conclusion on whether it is good or bad, let's first understand what xylitol is to better infer the effects its regular consumption can have on our systems. Talking about its chemical structure and form, xylitol is a hydrogenated form of carbohydrate, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol to be more specific. It can be extracted from a lot of natural, vegetarian resources such as fruit and vegetable fibers, corn husks, oat, mushrooms and a few varieties of berries. It is a much used sugar substitute sweetener in cookies, biscuits, candies, pastilles, chewing gums and mouthwashes. The best part about replacing sugar with xylitol is that while the latter is almost as sweet as sugar and sucrose based sweeteners, it contains only about a fraction of the calories of the former. But then, is xylitol bad for you? If so, why? And if not, why not? Let's get down to some serious dissection of facts here.

Is Xylitol Safe?

You cannot competently and confidently answer the titular question in the affirmative or negative unless you know about the level of safety of xylitol consumption for humans. Well, we have already established that the calorie count of a given quantity of xylitol is as much as two-thirds less than the same quantity of sugar or any other sucrose based sweetener. Therefore, as far as the calorific consequences of xylitol consumption is concerned, it is absolutely safe as it allows you to indulge your sweet tooth without making you feel guilty about it later. Also, xylitol has been clinically proven to have cavity-fighting capabilities which makes it good for your teeth! This is so because this particular sugar alcohol is non fermentable which makes the oral environment less conducive for the growth and accumulation of decay-causing and cavity-inducing bacteria in the mouth.

Another highlight about xylitol is the fact that compared to sugar, this sweetener takes a lot more time than sugar to get absorbed which means that it does not abnormally spike the blood sugar level. This makes it a safe sweetening agent for consumption by diabetics, hyperglycemics and people suffering from hypertension and metabolic syndrome. Sounds too good to be true? Wait, there's more! Recent studies have found that xylitol is beneficial for improving bone density which makes it a potential candidate for treating osteoporosis! Xylitol is also a known antibacterial agent that is effective in stunting the growth and propagation of various infection-causing bacteria. It also boosts the body's immune response towards bacterial infection by charging up the white blood cells that are actively involved in fighting pathogenic bacteria. Studies suggest the possible efficacy of xylitol in fighting yeast infections as well!

Dangers of Xylitol

Well, it seems like what should have been a discussion regarding xylitol dangers is on the verge of ending up as an ode to its benefits! But then, that is the sad truth, my pessimistic comrades! As far as toxicity and adverse xylitol side effects in humans are concerned, there are none whatsoever! However (aha! I can see that wicked gleam cross your eyes, my cynical friend!), if consumed in abnormally large quantities, it may give you a mild to moderate case of loose motions and some other minor stomach upset case. Similar to sugar and most other sweeteners, xylitol can have a laxative effect IF consumed like an idiot! Now comes the serious part. Occurrence of allergic reactions from xylitol consumption is also extremely rare in humans.

Although absolutely safe for humans, xylitol imparts severely toxic effects in dogs. The symptoms of xylitol toxicity in dogs can assume fatal proportions even if only a very small amount is ingested. Right from experiencing low blood sugar, vomiting and difficulty in maintaining balance while standing or walking, a dog may suffer from serious internal hemorrhage, liver failure and seizures.

So, is xylitol bad for you? Absolutely not! However, it is extremely dangerous for canines and if you have one, it would be wise to keep any food item having xylitol content on the topmost shelf or behind the doors of a locked cabinet. As far as human consumption is concerned, even the FDA has certified xylitol as SAFE for normal consumption. Even if you consume foolishly high quantities, the chances are that you'll pay for your idiocy by frequent trips to the bathroom! I would say that's getting away way too easily than deserved for such conscious nitwittedness!
By Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Last Updated: 9/23/2011
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