By: Jessica Mattern
Sugar alcohols can occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, or be produced by fermenting plant sugars. Because they are not well absorbed or metabolized by the body, they contain fewer calories (some of them close to none!) and have a smaller effect on blood glucose levels. For the same reason, they can cause stomach upset if used excessively. This is particularly true for ones that are not absorbed. Their impact on blood sugar and potential for side effects varies depending on the type of sugar alcohol.
Contrary to what some people may believe, sugar alcohols are not artificial sweeteners. There is some processing involved to achieve the granulated sweeteners you can purchase for home use, but this is no less than the process needed for coconut sugar, maple syrup, or white table sugar. You can also choose to buy ones that are guaranteed non-GMO and/or organic.
Erythritol is one of the more popular low carb sweeteners. It practically has no aftertaste at all, aside from an occasional cooling sensation than can be present if used in large quantities. It occurs naturally in some fruit, but the granulated kind you buy is made by fermenting glucose . Erythritol has a glycemic index of 0, meaning it does not spike insulin. In comparison, Xylitol has a glycemic index of 13, maltitol has a glycemic index of 35 and table sugar has a glycemic index of 65. The higher the number, the worse it is.
How is Erythritol Made?
Erythritol is naturally occurring in many fruits. But how is erythritol made for commercial purposes? It's simply a process of fermentation. Erythritol is made by fermenting corn or birch. Just to be clear, it is not corn or birch itself, it's the byproduct of the fermentation process. Therefore, erythritol is keto, low carb and has zero net carbs. If you prefer to avoid corn, erythritol made with birch is a good option, but is more expensive.
Is Erythritol Keto and Low Carb?
Yes, absolutely! Because it is not metabolized, erythritol is keto and suitable for low carb diets. It has 0 grams net carbs.
The main benefits of erythritol have more to do with what it does not have or do, than what it does. Since it has no calories, no carbs, no sugar, does not raise blood glucose levels, and tastes great, that makes it an almost perfect low carb sugar substitute. As a bonus, it can reduce absorption of fructose, which is not good for us. Erythritol also has anti-oxidant properties and can remove free radicals in the bloodstream.
Erythritol Side Effects
Although it’s in the sugar alcohol family, erythritol does not raise blood glucose or cause gastrointestinal distress. This differentiates it from most polyols.
Why is erythritol safe and different from others?
Most of it gets absorbed in the small intestine, but is poorly metabolized. It is later excreted unchanged into the urine. All other sugar alcohols reach the large intestine instead, which is why they are more likely to cause stomach upset. Since the small intestine absorbs erythritol, it never gets to the part where it can cause distress. This is true for most people, but for best results start slowly with it.
Baking With Erythritol
Technically erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar, so the correct conversion would indicate to use a little more compared to sugar (about 1.3 times more). However, many people use it as a 1:1 replacement for sugar without noticing a difference.
In most situations, baking with erythritol is similar to baking with sugar. You can mix it with dry ingredients or cream butter with it.
However, there are several main differences when baking with erythritol instead of sugar:
I try not to single out a specific brand here, because this is really intended to be an unbiased blog. But, because this particular question comes up a lot, I wanted to address it.
What is the difference between Swerve and erythritol?
Swerve is mostly erythritol, but also has oligosaccharides added. What are those? They are simply prebiotic plant fiber.
The addition of these helps make Swerve the same level of sweetness as sugar, whereas pure erythritol is 70% as sweet as sugar.
And what about other brands of erythritol? Swerve is a great option but definitely not the only one.
Where To Buy Erythritol Unfortunately I have not seen erythritol in grocery stores. You can however buy it online.
About Dr. Hill
Dr. Lester (Ted) Hill is a licensed Osteopathic physician, an advanced clinical Nutrition Response Testing® practitioner, and the founder of East Liverpool Family Practice.