Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Xylitol, People, and Pets

I would like to to talk to you briefly about xylitol. You've probably heard the name at least once or twice if you're trying to lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid sugar, but still enjoy the occasional indulgence. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in certain plants. It can be harvested from a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as the bark of birch trees. A common source of xylitol these days is corn and corn fibers though, so be careful when purchasing xylitol to look for one labeled "non-GMO"!

So what makes xylitol so great? Unlike sucrose (table sugar) and some other sugar substitutes, xylitol has a very low Glycemic Index (7, versus sucrose at 65). Other sugar substitutes such as maltitol, which is also a sugar alcohol and found commonly in pre-made "sugar-free" foods has a glycemic index nearly identical to that of table sugar (50), making it a much poorer choice than xylitol if good health is your goal. Xylitol contains 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbohydrates than sucrose, and is absorbed more slowly than sugar. It doesn't need insulin to be metabolized by the body, either, which means it doesn't raise blood sugar. For anyone looking to maintain good health, this is great news, as high blood sugars damage the body over time (heart disease risk, for example, goes up with postprandial readings greater than 100 ng/dl). For these reasons, xylitol has been used in countries like Japan, Russia, and Germany as a diabetic sweetener since the 1960's! Xylitol is as sweet as table sugar, making it a perfect substitute for baking with.

Aside from the fact that xylitol doesn't cause insulin spikes, it has some other health benefits. It can help to prevent tooth decay by maintaining a more neutral pH balance in the mouth and preventing bacteria from sticking to your teeth. It has also been shown to repair damaged enamel on teeth. Because xylitol can help prevent the growth of bacteria, it has also been used medicinally (though this is not approved by the FDA) to treat ear and sinus infections. Some research suggests that it can also help maintain bone density, and slow the growth of Candida Albicans.

Recently xylitol use has come under attack from some veterinarians and pet lovers after a report came out in 2006 suggesting it may be toxic to dogs. I have even been asked to revise one of my recipes to remove the xylitol from it due to it's potential for insulin spiking in our furry friends. I have a simpler solution than that we quit using a product that is not only safe but actually healthy for human consumption. It's called not feeding it to your dog. There is always the chance xylitol consumption may occur if a dog finds something that has been dropped on the floor by accident or left within reach somehow. But why single out xylitol? There are other healthy human foods that we don't eliminate from our diets because of their potential dangers to pets. Some of these foods include chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocado, and onion. Many of the reports of "xylitol poisoning" haven't in fact been proven to be due to xylitol at all and when toxicity is seen in dogs it is often after an animal has eaten an exorbitant amount of something, like when a news story reported on this issue after a dog ate 100 pieces of sugar-free gum that contained both xylitol and aspartame. The American Veterinary Medical Association reported on this as well when another dog ate 4 large, chocolate frosted muffins which, combined, contained around a pound of xylitol. Often times, these warnings about the toxicity of human foods to dogs are blown out of proportion after some freak cases where pets consume massive quantities of something, so to suggest that we should exclude these healthy foods from our diet because of this potential problem for pets is ridiculous. The ASPCA, for example, includes raw and undercooked meat, eggs, and bones on their list of dangerous pet foods. The fact is raw foods and especially raw meat and bones are dogs and cats natural foods. Did God dump a bag of kibble in The Garden for Adam to feed to the cats and dogs? Nope. It has only become the "norm" for pets to consume grain-based, man-made food over the last 100 years (a mere breath in the history of the world!), and the truth is, we're not doing them any favors with this type of diet. It's like pediatricians who tell mothers that formula is just as healthy for their babies as breastmilk; it's simply not true, and that has been proven over and over with scientific research. We are made in the image of God. As such, we are naturally inclined to create. But we can never create anything better than God did, and this applies to every area of life, whether it is the ideal food for ourselves, our babies, or our pets (or anything non-food related).

I have really stumbled off topic here. But that's one of the benefits of having your own blog. You can write whatever you want and follow as many rabbit-trails as you please.

So the bottom line is: Eat xylitol. It's good for you. Don't let Fido eat xylitol. It might be bad for him. If you're new to xylitol, however, keep in mind that xylitol has a moderate "laxation threshold" -- that is, too much can cause abdominal discomfort (gas, bloating, and diarrhea). It's not harmful and your body will adjust in time, but starting with a small amount daily and slowly working your way up will avoid the discomfort altogether.


  1. good info! I could find xylitol addictive now simply from the fresh affect. If I could eat a piece of your delicious chocolate cake and my mouth feel fresh then that's great! (Lately the biggest complaint I've had with most foods/beverages is the yuckiness it leaves in my mouth!

  2. do you suggest xylitol for coffee? or would truvia be better? you use stevia right?

  3. I prefer stevia for coffee; it tastes great (most brands are made without that slightly bitter aftertaste anymore) and is less expensive than Truvia or xylitol. Plus it comes in so many flavors, it can be a lot of fun (we haven't ever purchased the flavored kinds ourselves but when we got married my mom sent us all the flavors she had and didn't like; they've lasted us a long time and we're only just now running out of the last flavor!). Personally I like it in liquid form best, as well; makes it easy to be sure it's well incorporated into the coffee! Toffee flavored stevia is my favorite in coffee.

  4. Meg, do you have links for the specific stevia (like brand, etc.) you like?

    We like xylitol! I even flavor my own (granulated) with essential oils. So great for teeth! And I totally agree that just because it's harmful to dogs doesn't mean we shouldn't use it. :)

  5. Oooh, I never thought of flavoring it! Now I want to try peppermint xylitol. Yum!

    My favorite stevia is NOW brand, though most of them are pretty good these days. You can find NOW very inexpensively on iHerb.com (http://www.iherb.com/Now-Foods-Stevia-Extract-2-fl-oz-60-ml/863?at=0). They make all kinds of flavored stevia, though I have only tried a couple of their flavored varieties. I also like Sweet Leaf, which is the brand I've tried lots of flavors in (favorites are lemon, toffee, chocolate raspberry, and dark chocolate). You can also get SweetLeaf on iHerb, though I think vitacost.com has a larger selection of the flavors.