Sugar substitutes are everywhere. If you are in the market for one, how do you decide? Personally, I am looking for something that does not raise my blood sugar, and erythritol in particular has caught my attention.
WHAT IS ERYTHRITOL?
Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol naturally found in plants. In its processed form, it looks and tastes like white sugar. Other sugar alcohols include xylitol (which, though I have never tried it, is a featured heavily in one of the most used cookbooks on my shelf), maltitol, sorbitol and lactitol. Don’t get concerned (or excited) by the fact that it is an alcohol. Consuming these white sugar substitutes won’t make you tipsy; they would need to contain ethanol to do that. In its granulated or powdered form erythritol can either be GMO-filled or GMO-free, which if you care about that, you will want to watch out for.
WHY USE ERYTHRITOL TO REPLACE SUGAR?
There are three reasons why erythritol appears to be the star performer among sugar alcohols and other white sugar substitutes: 1) it does not raise blood glucose levels; 2) it contains almost no calories; and 3) compared with other sugar alcohols, it is less likely to cause an upset stomach.
SO WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BODY WHEN WE CONSUME ERYTHRITOL?
In the case of most sugar alcohols, since the body cannot metabolize them very well, they end up in the colon where they feed bad gut bacteria. This can cause stomach issues for people. Erythritol behaves differently though. 90% of the erythritol molecules, being much smaller than the molecules of other sugar alcohols, are absorbed in the small intestines, so they never make it to the colon. Then they passes right out, unchanged, through our bodies in urine. Even the 10% or so of erythritol molecules that do manage to make it to the colon seem to be unappetizing to the bad gut bacteria – they cannot digest it. It would take 50 grams or (approximately 1/4 cup, granulated) to risk that. For more detail and to nerd out on some studies of erythritol, go here.
The downsides of using erythritol would appear to be that 1) since it is for the most part not absorbed by the body, it is of very little nutritional value, 2) it may cause upset stomachs in some people, and 3) again, it is a processed product, so if you are determined to eat only whole foods, you would likely not find this product acceptable.
HOW TO USE ERYTHRITOL AS A SUGAR SUBSTITUTE
Despite having nearly zero calories and no impact on blood glucose levels, erythritol is a full 70% as sweet as sugar. This has made it quite popular among low-carb eaters.
One popular sugar substitute mixture is to blend erythritol with stevia, an all-natural plant-based sweetener which is 200-300% the sweetness of sugar to create a 1:1 sugar substitute. I will likely experiment with this option in the future, once I get my hands on some organic stevia. If you are in the US, the commercial product Swerve does this for you – it’s a 70/30 blend of erythritol & stevia, and it’s GMO free.
Or, you might find that you can simply reduce the sweetness in your beverage and cooking adventures by replacing erythritol alone on a 1:1 basis with sugar. As I do not have a big sweet tooth, that is normally my first move in experimenting.
A handy conversion chart on how to substitute erythritol and other alternative sweeteners for sugar can be found here.
WHERE TO FIND ERYTHRITOL
In Bangkok, non-GMO erythritol can be found at or delivered from Healtholicious.
For me, the benefits erythritol may offer in terms of broadening my cooking options without compromising my interest in a low-carb/sugar way of eating trump my interest in minimizing processed foods (which is also a pretty serious interest). I’m curious and am going to experiment with it a bit.
Recipes, if successful, to follow soon.