There are a number of healthy and low-calorie natural sugar substitutes on the market. All have their advantages, but xylitol is the best choice for cooking for three main reasons.
1- Baking is Easy
Xylitol is the all-round winner when it comes to baking. Because xylitol is as sweet, weight for weight, like regular sugar, you can use precisely the same amount of xylitol as you would sugar in your baking recipes. With other natural sugar substitutes, you need less of them if they are not to be overpowering and unbearably sweet, which means you need to add additional bulk to recipes for them to work.
2- Beneficial to Teeth
And, of course, the added advantage is, xylitol has also been shown to confer significant oral health benefits and inhibits dental caries, which means cakes made with xylitol not only don’t harm your teeth but they are actually beneficial!
3- Suitable for Diabetics
And finally, as the body does not require insulin to metabolize xylitol, it has become widely used as a sweetener for people with diabetes, in fact it was originally developed for this very purpose. If you are planning to include xylitol in a diabetic diet, always consult a medical professional beforehand for expert advice to suit individual requirements.
Incidentally, it was discovered during the 1950s that children who included xylitol in their diet developed fewer ear infections. Xylitol is a naturally occurring form of sugar (strictly speaking, it is a ‘sugar alcohol’), sometimes called birch sugar. It’s found in certain fruits and plants such as oats, berries, maize, and birch bark. It can be extracted from some of them: usually from maize husks or birch bark. Xylitol contains the same level of sweetness as regular sugar or sucrose but with approximately 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer available carbohydrates.
Xylitol has a low impact on blood sugar and very low glycaemic index (7 or 8, compared with sucrose, which is around 65, although studies vary). Xylitol is cariostatic, which means it doesn’t cause tooth decay (dental caries) and can actually help guard against it. Xylitol encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut and discourages the growth of yeast.
Xylitol was first discovered in the 1890s and was developed further several decades later in Europe as a safer sweetener than sugar for people with diabetes. Scientists in Finland found it was a useful alternative to beet sugar during the sugar shortages of the Second World War. It became popular in Finland and by the 1970s Finnish scientists had discovered xylitol’s dental benefits.
The many health benefits of xylitol are widely documented. However, it can cause mild diarrhoea in some people if taken to excess, particularly if your body isn’t used to it. Stick to a normal serving of cake – a modest slice or two, or one or two individual cakes at a sitting – and you should be fine. Possibly, if you were to eat an entire large cake all at once, you would experience some discomfort, but then again, it wouldn’t be wise to eat that amount of cake made with regular sugar either! Just be sensible and take it steadily, particularly while your digestive system adapts to it.
4- Warning for Pets
Although beneficial for humans, xylitol – much like chocolate and grapes – is not suitable for dogs. In fact, it is not advisable to give it to any animal, so please keep anything made with xylitol, and xylitol itself, for human consumption only. If you suspect your dog has taken xylitol, please consult your vet immediately.