We are too aware that sugar and most artificial sweeteners are harmful and that we should avoid them or limit their intake as much as possible. There is a 100% natural sweetener occurring in foodstuffs that not only is harmless but actually beneficial to us.   This sweetener is called Xylitol.

What is Xylitol?
Xylitol is a naturally occurring, low calorie sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables.  It is a white, crystalline substance that resembles and tastes like sugar.

Our body’s metabolism can actually produce up to15 grams of xylitol from the foods we ingest. In fact xylitol is not a strange or artificial substance but a normal part of everyday metabolism.

Xylitol was discovered in Germany in the late 1800’s and  became popular in Finland after World War II where it was used as a sugar substitute due to sugar shortages.  It was called “koivusokeri” or “birch sugar” as it is derived from the birch tree.

What is the difference between Xylitol and other sweeteners?
Chemically speaking xylitol is not a sugar but a sugar alcohol.It differs from other sugars such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, glucose and sorbitol because the Xylitol molecule has 5 Carbon atoms as opposed to the 6 Carbon atoms of the others.

It is slowly absorbed and does not cause a quick rise in blood sugar.  Most bacteria in the mouth are unable to make use of these sugars.

It has very similar sweetening powers as the other sugars but with 40% less calories.  It has a refreshing taste and no bitter after taste.

What are the dietary sources of Xylitol?
Xylitol is widely distributed throughout nature in small amounts.  It is found in a number of fruits such as raspberries, strawberries and yellow plums.  Vegetables such as lettuce, cauliflower and chicory also contain this substance as do mushrooms and corn cobs.

What are the health benefits of Xylitol?
Xylitol has a number of beneficial effects on our health and these include improved metabolism (thereby facilitating weight loss), helping to maintain bone density and helping to alleviate sinus, hearing and immune system issues.

In nasal washes it helps to prevent bacteria from adhering to mucous membranes and nasal tissues thereby preventing infection.  It helps in the body’s natural cleansing process.

It is a low glycaemic sweetener and is metabolised independently of insulin.  It does not cause sharp increases in blood sugar levels or the associated insulin response.  It is therefore good for diabetics.

The oral health benefits of Xylitol are what we are most concerned with.

What are the dental benefits of Xylitol?
Xylitol plays an important role in the prevention of dental caries (decay), suppresses the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay and can alleviate a dry mouth.

How does Xylitol prevent cavity formation?
Caries is the result of combined effects of micro-organisms and sugar.  Food that contains refined sugars is an energy source for Streptococcus Mutans (the bacteria that causes tooth decay) that will then multiply and produce harmful acids.  When the PH of the bacteria- laden saliva drops below neutral 7, Calcium and Phosphate of the tooth enamel starts to dissolve and forms small holes.

After eating sugar it takes over half an hour before the PH of plaque is restored to its normal level of 7. Xylitol, because it does not ferment, is not a food source for these bacteria and therefore the bacteria count will decrease after its intake and the neutral ph of the saliva is preserved and cavity formation will be prevented.

It helps to ensure that bacteria do not adsorb well on the surface of teeth therefore plaque concentrations will decrease. It also stimulates the secretion of saliva used to rinse the teeth of acids and helps in the re-mineralisation of enamel (corrects insipient damage to enamel).

Where is Xylitol found commercially?
Xylitol is present in many commercially available tooth-pastes as well as in chewing gum and sweets. It is also available in powder form as a substitute for sugar.

Is Xylitol safe?
Yes.  In amounts needed to prevent tooth decay (less than 15 g/day) it is safe for everyone.