One of the questions that I get asked fairly frequently here on the blog is, "Is Erythritol Safe?"
What is Erythritol?
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol. Other sugar alcohols are:
You're probably seen these on the labels of sugar-free foods in the grocery store.
Erythritol is made by fermenting the natural sugar found in corn.
How to Use Erythritol
Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as table sugar, so when using it, you when converting a recipe, you need to add about 30% more to the recipe to get the same sweetness that you would have otherwise. Alternatively, it can be, and is often combined, with other sweeteners such as stevia (or other, less desirable sweeteners) to enhance its sweetness.
It has a cooling effect on the tongue that you might notice. After eating it, your tongue might feel a bit cool.
I personally don't use erythritol that much, but it's a very versatile sweetener. It works well in low carb recipes particularly when blending it with other sweeteners.
Is Erythritol Safe?
There are a number of people out there in the internet world of information claiming that erythritol is not safe. Within each article there are a number of concerns listed that, at first glance, are quite disconcerting.
When I saw people asking online about these concerns, of course I was alarmed. I don't want to be using anything in my home that is damaging to our health. No one is perfect, and we can't avoid everything, but I try to make the best decision for my family and keeping removing toxins from our home and diet is something that I work hard at.
I have to say, however, that even though there were a few things in these posts that deserve some notice, just as with the case with the articles on stevia safety and the mention of xylitol and tumors, there is a lot of nonsense out there about erythritol.
Frankly this is just another example of poor journalism meant to instill fear and get you to click on links.
There are articles out in the blogosphere making all kinds of claims about erythritol dangers and concerns about erythritol not being safe. In this post, I will touch on all of them.
Let's go through the concerns about erythritol safety step by step.
1. Is Erythritol "One of the Worst Artificial Sweeteners"?
Some of erythritol's critics say that erythritol is one of the worst artificial sweeteners out there.
However, there are other sweeteners out there that many people are concerned about, such as aspartame, saccharin, neotame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose.
Let's talk about these other sweeteners.
First up is aspartame.
Aspartame is Nutrasweet and has been shown to kill brain cells (source).
I can tell you that I had horrid insomnia from that stuff--I used to drink a lot of Diet Coke when I was a waitress. I loved it, but....totally not worth it. I'm glad I got the insomnia because it was the trigger for me to get off of it and save a few of the brain cells that I have left.
There are mixed thoughts as to whether or not there is a link between aspartame and cancer. (source)
At 5.625 mg/kg (that would be , this sweetener has been shown to cause oxidative stress in the brain and memory issues. (source)
Unlike other studies where they use a HUGE amount of sweeteners, etc., in the tests, this study did NOT include a lot of aspartame.
For a 125 pound adult, this would be 319 mg of aspartame, and there is 125 mg in a Diet Coke!!
No thank you!
Neotame is aspartame with a phenylalanine blocker.
It is for sure a pattern, but there are mixed thoughts on this sweetener as well.
Since neotame is based on aspartame, the concerns about aspartame would likely all apply here as well.
In addition, some believe that neotame is more of a problem. (source)
Of course, others believe that there are really no safety concerns at all. (source)
I think that you can come to your own conclusions about this one.
This is the main ingredient in the very popular alternative sweetener, Splenda ®.
The safety aspects regarding Sucralose are a little more complicated to determine.
First of all, there is a study where rats were fed 500 mg/kg of sucralose and it led to kidney damage. One problem with this study is that it is studying rats and this is a LOT of sucralose. As I pointed out, we are not rats, and our bodies should treat sucralose differently than a rat's body would.
One odd thing regarding the amount of sucralose in this study is that some claim that researchers were using that amount in order to measure the effects of sucralose accumulating in the body. The problem with that statement, however, is that there is other evidence out there stating that sucralose doesn't accumulate.
There are also claims that Splenda alters gut bacteria. This is based on a study with mice. The problem here, however, is that Splenda is NOT only sucralose. It's sucralose with maltodextrin added to give it bulk. In fact, Splenda is 1% sucralose and 99% maltodextrin.
This would give reason for the reports that I have heard of diabetics having reactions after using a lot of Splenda. It might not be the sucralose, but the maltodextrin that is giving them a reaction!
I'm not pointing all of this out to say that I think that Splenda and sucralose are great alternative sweeteners, but just to say that the research is murky and I don't know what to think about it, yet. Overall I think it's probably OK but I want to dig into the information about how it might accumulate first.
This is another murky sweetener. There are concerns that it contains methylene chloride, a carcinogen. However some sources state that at levels of 40 ppb, methylene chloride is undetectable due to manufacturing procedures.
There are also concerns that it causes cancer, with opinions on both sides of the aisle.
There is evidence that this sweetener stimulates insulin secretion in a dose-dependent fashion, so it might cause hypoglycemia. (source)
I think there's enough concern here to warrant avoiding this sweetener, especially for long term use.
There have been concern about saccharin being linked to cancer. Most sources seem to indicate that this risk is not real, which is good news for those of us who used Sweet N Low in our younger days....
However, there are endocrine concerns including how this sweetener can affect adipose (fat) tissues and the liver and pancreas as well. (source)
2. Erythritol Is an Insecticide
There are claims out there that since erythritol kills insects, that it is something that we shouldn't be eating.
Is that true? If something kills insects, does that mean that it is dangerous for us?
Well, let's think about that for a minute.
Here is a list of things that repel or kill insects.
How many of these do you use or would you consider using?
- Diatomaceous Earth
When sprinkled on bugs, diatomaceous earth absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate.
Hmmm...there are loads of people who say that this is a great thing to use internally for parasites and killing off other bad stuff in your gut. I'll leave that up to you, but it definitely isn't fatal. And there are loads of sites online saying that you can use this as a natural flea repellant for animals. Clearly if you sprinkle this on your furry's fur they are not going to dehydrate and die, because cats and dogs are NOT insects.
And, news flash--we aren't insects either!
- Vegetable Oil
This apparently isn't good for bugs. Of course, most of us know that eating a lot of vegetable oil isn't great for us, but it isn't going to kill anyone suddenly.
Cornmeal kills ants. Now, I don't like eating a lot of corn, and really don't like eating it when it's GMO, but it's not lethal.
- Boric Acid (Borax)
I have had different thoughts about Boric Acid over the years. In this post on borax safety, a guest writer talked about how she's not comfortable with it.
- Tomato Leaf
Now, I don't go and eat a bunch of tomato leaves or make a pesto out of them, but I'm not going to be worried if I happen to ingest some. Turns out that tomatine is the substance in the green parts of the tomato plant that is toxic to bugs, but it's not toxic to humans.
Look--we are not insects. We also aren't dogs, and just because xylitol kills dogs, doesn't mean that it kills humans, and just because some sites online say that xylitol causes tumors doesn't mean that it's true.
Raisins and grapes and chocolate are also a big problem for dogs, but most of us wouldn't even think about not eating chocolate.
Does this make sense? One species isn't the same as all others, so the argument of "erythritol is an insecticide" doesn't hold water in my book.
Saying that something has a use that is toxic to something else simply doesn't mean it's toxic for humans.
Don't Drink Milk! It's a Fungicide!
I know that there weren't warnings out there about erythritol being a fungicide, but I'm including this information to illustrate my point.
Milk is a fungicide. It kills fungus. Does that mean we should avoid milk for that reason?
So, let's think about this.
We planted some grapes in our backyard this past year, and we've had issues with some fungus growing on them.
One of my online friends has a real live professional vineyard. So I reached out to her to ask what I should do. Her response was to spray the plants with milk.
So--MILK is a Fungicide!
Does that mean that we shouldn't drink it?
Well, it's a pretty inflammatory food, but its property of helping plants deal with fungus isn't reason to avoid it.
3. Erythitol Often Has Additives in It
This is the same faulty reasoning that I pointed out in the "Why I Quit Eating Stevia" argument in this post on stevia safety.
In that post, I addressed the concern that other bloggers had made about stevia, stating that it should be avoided since there are often other things added to stevia, like maltodextrin, and the like.
This is pure silliness.
Other things are often added to meat and grains and even vegetables. Most people put salad dressing on their greens. Does that mean that we shouldn't eat greens?
OF COURSE NOT!
For goodness' sake, there are so many products with water as the base and LOADS of additives, but we don't skip drinking water as a result.
If you want to use erythritol, just buy plain erythritol with nothing added!
4. Erythritol Causes Digestive Upset
In actuality, erythritol is supposed to be the most gentle of the sugar alcohols out there.
Due to its smaller molecular weight and configuration that differ from other sugar alcohols, erythritol typically doesn't cause the gastrointestinal upset that other sugar alcohols do. Most of it is rapidly absorbed in the small intestine and excreted unchanged in urine. Studies have shown that erythritol is typically well-tolerated, even in large amounts. (source) (source)
That doesn't mean that it isn't a problem for anyone. It's possible that it does for you.
If that is the case, just eat less of it. I know that for me, if I eat red meat very frequently, I get constipated. So I don't avoid meat completely as a result, I just don't eat it all the time.
5. Erythritol Is Often Genetically Modified
Again, this is a non-issue. So since corn and soy are often genetically modified, does that mean that you should avoid them? I know there can be other issues with those foods, but their GMO status shouldn't necessarily be the determining factor in that.
Likewise, potatoes and zucchinis are more and more being genetically modified as this practice infiltrates much of our food system.
So should we not eat?
Again, just. buy. non-GMO erythritol.
6. Erythritol Might Cause Weight Gain
Food Babe cites this article, claiming it is evidence that erythritol is linked to weight gain.
The problem with this conclusion is that the article is that nowhere is it mentioned that the participants in this study ate erythritol! It's about measuring their blood and in fact, they drank glucose! The study states:
The exact interplay between increased erythritol concentrations in blood and the development of weight gain and fat mass is not yet understood, she said. It is not clear whether endogenous erythritol and/or exposure from food contributes to the erythritol-weight gain association.
So this is totally inconclusive.
7. Erythritol Can Lead to Overeating
One of the claims about low-carb sweeteners is that consuming them can lead to overeating.
Here is one statement about erythritol:
It [erythritol] does not metabolized [sic], and therefore, your body may not be getting calories or sugar. It’s also not registering that any fuel got put into your body at all. This is why you can end up still feeling hungry after you consume products with alternative and fake man-made sugars.
Well this doesn't make sense if you are using erythritol as a sweetener in foods that have calories in them, like these Snickerdoodle Cookie Dough Balls or these Almond Joy Bars. You are getting LOADS of calories with them. And they are YUMMY calories to boot!
One blogger point to this article to back up his statement about erythritol leading to weight gain. The problem is that that article doesn't even mention erythritol. And while the article talks about weight gain with sugar alcohols, it doesn't link to any support for that claim.
What is does say is that:
Weight gain has been seen when these products are overeaten.
Oh, OK. Thanks for that shocking bit of news.
Look--ANY food eaten to excess can cause weight gain.
Pretty much--except for celery and such foods that use more calories to digest them than they supply to the body.
8. Erythritol Is Bad for Those with SIBO
Some websites state that erythritol is terrible for those with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), due to how irritating it is to the digestive system.
Well, I addressed that irritation above, but let's go a step further.
According to the comment on this article, it's more complicated than that and the author states that erythritol is allowed on hir recommended Fast Tract Diet. I think it makes sense, if you have SIBO, to see how you do with erythritol and go from there.
9. Erythritol Can Cause Allergic Reactions
Seriously? We're supposed to avoid erythritol because it can cause allergic reactions?
I'm sorry, but this is just laughable.
There are also rare allergic reactions to chicken and essential oils and meat and my son can't eat most nuts due to anaphylactic food allergies. Are people saying we shouldn't eat those things because of potential reactions?
Benefits of Erythritol
Erythritol has many benefits, both practical, in terms of its usage, and related to your health as well.
- Heat stable up to 160 degrees C.
- Non-hygroscopic - Erythritol doesn't absorb moisture from the air, so you don't get horrendous clumping issues (no jack hammer needed to break up your clumped sweetener!)
- Non-caloric – Erythritol has zero calories, whereas most sugar alcohols have some calories.
- Low / Non-glycemic - Erythritol doesn't raise blood sugar.
- Noncarcinogenic– Erythritol has been shown to not have cancer-causing properties. This is similar to xylitol, which I discussed in this post on xylitol and tumors. (source)
- An antioxidant – Erythritol has been shown to be an efficient hydroxyl radical (HO*) scavenger. (source)
- Good for Dental Health - Though xylitol is famous for its contribution to dental health, erythritol has been shown to be more beneficial than xylitol. (source)
Erythritol has the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status from the FDA and is widely used around the world.
So though it sounds like erythritol is a fabulous choice for everyone, it is, sadly, the most expensive of the sugar alcohols to produce. For that reason, it's not found in many commercial products and as a consumer, you might find this to be a problem as well. We buy our erythritol in bulk (actually, we buy almost EVERYTHING in bulk!)
Tips for Using Erythritol
First of all, as mentioned above, when selecting erythritol, buy a non-genetically modified source. That removes one of the health concerns about this sweetener.
Secondly, you can simply use erythritol as one of the sweeteners in your arsenal. However, blending erythritol with other low-carb sweeteners like stevia extract or xylitol not only enhances the resulting flavor of your desserts, but it also minimizes any health risks that might be there.
Actually, I rarely use erythritol. I don't like it that much since it isn't that sweet and it's pretty expensive. So my point in writing this wasn't to support my erythritol habit. It was just to set the record straight on what is factual and what isn't.
Given the evidence, I think that erythritol is a very safe alternative to sugar and other high carb sweeteners. Yes, natural is best, but in the case of sweeteners and the health challenges that they cause (think about the diabetes epidemic!), I think that using low carb sweeteners in moderation is a much lower risk.
And for some of us, like those with diabetes and candida, or metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, sweeteners like erythritol are a great way to be able to enjoy something sweet without wreaking havoc on our health.
Do you use erythritol?
Do you think that erythritol is a safe sweetener?