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What is Xylitol and what are its health benefits?

Updated on March 31, 2012
Spry toothpaste is one product that contains Xylitol.
Spry toothpaste is one product that contains Xylitol. | Source

Discovering Xylitol

At a trip to the dentist with my children over the summer, my hygienist asked me if I used products that contained Xylitol. I told her that I didn’t think so and of course asked her what it was. She explained that Xylitol is a sugar substitute that helps to prevent tooth decay and that there are some great products available with Xylitol in them. Although my husband is a diabetic and uses sugar substitutes, I do not use them for my children. The artificial sweeteners are not really good for anyone, but especially for growing bodies. So I had my doubts about whether this would really be a good fit for my family.

Xylitol: A Sugar Substitute

Xylitol was discovered in the late 1800s. Although Xylitol has been around for many years, it is just beginning to become more visible here in the United States. If asked, many Americans can name sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. More recently there have been an increase in products that contain extracts from the plant Stevia, but little is said about Xylitol. So what is Xylitol and how can it impact your life?

Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is found naturally in certain fibrous fruits and vegetables. It is extracted from the plants and processed into white crystaline granules. It takes like sugar and has no after taste that is often found in artificial sweeteners.

Xylitol and Teeth

Tooth Decay

The reason that my hygienist brought this sweetener to my attention was for its ability to naturally inhibit tooth decay. She suggested that simply chewing on a piece of gum or sucking on candy that contained Xylitol would help to prevent cavities if you could not get to the sink to brush your teeth. So as I researched this product, I found that indeed there are benefits to preventing tooth decay. It seems that the while sucrose (sugar) gives the food in your mouth energy, Xylitol works in the opposite way. It helps the pH levels in your mouth remain neutral (providing more alkaline in the mouth rather than the typical acidic nature that mouths have after eating) and keeps the bacteria from sticking to your teeth. Therefore preventing the cavities from forming. It also does not have the same harmful effects that fluoride has when swallowed so it can be used by children of all ages. My hygienist stated that she actually sends her children to school with a small piece of candy containing Xylitol for them to suck on after lunch since they are unable to brush their teeth.

Xylitol and Ear Infections

Research has also shown that the presence of Xylitol can also inhibit the production of infections. Like cavities, ear infections develop in an acidic environment. So adding Xylitol to ones diet, could in fact reduce the number of ear infections that you develop each year. If your children are prone to ear infections, you may want to discuss with your pediatrician or ear, nose, and throat specialist the possibility of Xylitol helping to reduce the outbreak of infections in your child.

Xylitol and Diabetes

Since Xylitol is not the same as sugar, it is found to be more safe for diabetics. Of course as with any change in diet, one must consult your own physician for what is right for you. However, Xylitol takes longer than common table sugar to absorb in the body. It therefore prevents the spikes in insulin that one typically finds in eating sweet foods. This makes it a much more desirable product for diabetics to use.

Xylitol and Pregnancy

Since this is a naturally occurring product, it would make sense that it is safe to use during pregnancy. I know that while I was pregnant I had to cut out any sweeteners that I used in my coffee or diet beverages. I also wanted to be sure that I wasn't over indulging in sugary products. Had I been aware of this product during my pregnancy, I would have discussed the possibility of using this as an alternative. So if you are expecting, you may want to talk with your OBGYN about using it during pregnancy.

Xylitol in Cooking and Baking

Xylitol has the same intensity of sweetness as sugar but with 60% less calories. It's cooking ratio is one to one. So if you decide to try cooking with Xylitol, you would use the same amount of Xylitol in the recipe in place of the sugar.

A word of caution: Because many of the health benefits involve the prevention of the growth of yeast, it will not help you in yeast based recipes. It is also known to absorb moisture. So if you decide to bake with Xylitol, be aware of the possible need to add more moisture to your recipe.

Dogs and Xylitol

If you have dogs, please be careful because it can be very dangerous to dogs. In addition, beware that overuse of Xylitol at any given setting can cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea. As with most things, use it in moderation.

Cautions and Final Thoughts

I have switched to using toothpaste that contains Xylitol for my children. Our toothpaste will be next once we run out of the Costco stock! It is a little more difficult to find. It is not typically found at regular grocery stores like Kroger or other stores like Target. Whole Foods has been known to carry these products and they can also be ordered through sites like amazon.

I have not used in cooking or baking but may give it a try once my husband runs out of his Splenda. If you have used Xylitol in cooking or baking, I would love to hear how you have fared.

Using Xylitol

How much did you previously know about Xylitol?

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    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      So glad that I was able to help Reminder! Thanks for reading.

    • The Reminder profile image

      The Reminder 

      6 years ago from Canada

      That's nice we sell Xylitol mints at my pharmacy but never knew what they were for. Thanks!

    • frugalfamily profile image

      Brenda Trott, M.Ed 

      6 years ago from Houston, TX

      Funny, I hadn't even looked yet. My personal website has gotten hits from pinterest but hubpages doesn't show any traffic from there yet. I think it just depends on the picture that is posted. If you still need an invite, just drop me an email and I'll hook you up:)

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, thanks! I appreciate it. It will be interesting to see if it gets any views from it. Do you find that you get many views to your hubs from there?

    • frugalfamily profile image

      Brenda Trott, M.Ed 

      6 years ago from Houston, TX

      Wow, super useful information. Thanks for the tips, I'll have to check it out. BTW I pinned it:)

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      I have no objections to the link RTalloni, thanks! I love using agave in my cooking. :) I have not actually used it in baking so I am not sure about that. If you use it before I do, I'd love to know the answer to your question.

    • RTalloni profile image


      6 years ago from the short journey

      So glad to learn more about Xylitol. All I knew before this was how to pronounce it! Thanks for helpful and important info!

      Do baked goods brown when using Xylitol, or do we need to add a little sugar to get them to brown?

      Voted up and bookmarked. I would like to link this to my Blue Agave hub if you have no objection.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Random Creative and Mom, I'm glad that you were both able to learn something in this hub. Always a teacher! :)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the information. After reading this I will be much more aware of it in products and will actually buy some gum to chew at work in case I can't get to the bathroom to brush my teeth after meals. :) You know how that goes...

      Well, I did vote and I'm glad I learned something new today. Thanks. You make some good points-I think there is probably a case that can be made with ANYTHING that is a probable cause of cancer. It is a shame that we do not live in a Utopia, but we just have to deal with that.

      Nice job-rated up and shared.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I'd never heard of this before. Thanks for all of the information!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Leah, I'm glad you found it useful. Let me know what your ENT says, I'm curious to hear what he says. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Thanks cathylynn, I appreciate your information. I did read that as well.

      It's funny Flora how we use things in our daily lives and don't really even realize what is in them. Thanks for your comment.

      Thanks Aunt Danette, I needed a change! I'm sure that I had probably heard about it somewhere along the way but didn't realize the benefits that it can have. Thanks for reading.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Cara - I LOVE your new profile picture! So beautiful.

      I had heard of xylitol and knew it's in the gum I chew. I didn't know that you could cook and bake with it. Nicely done.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      6 years ago

      Apparently I have been using this in my gum. But I hadn't heard of it.

    • cathylynn99 profile image


      6 years ago from northeastern US

      xylitol as chewing gum is recommended to prevent ear infections.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      6 years ago from Western New York

      Great hub, cardelean!

      The "cancer" theories with some sweeteners came about from faulty research in the 1970's: due to physiology endemic to rats, cancer was observed. The same phenomenon, however, does NOT exist in humans - making most sugar substitutes safe for human consumption.

      Xylitol is excellent because it is a natural sugar substitute, and the dental protection is a great bonus! I didn't know that Xylitol could help reduce ear infection - I'll have to ask our ENT about that with our 4 year old. He has extremely severe reflux and chronic ear infections (he had four sets of ear tubes by the age of three), so we are always on the lookout for something that might help in that department!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for adding your comment cathylynn99. Although I didn't find that in any of the research that I did, that doesn't surprise me. There are many things in our lives that MAY cause cancer. I think that we are hard pressed to find much of anything these days that won't possibly cause cancer. Agreed that natural doesn't mean safe. It is all about finding out what is best for you and making the choice that will fit yourself and your family. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • cathylynn99 profile image


      6 years ago from northeastern US

      xylitol may cause cancer. natural does NOT mean safe. digitalis is a medicine from the foxglove plant and has one of the worst safety records of any medicine.


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